Turtle Lane Playhouse's current production is the Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, "Miss Saigon" an epic and tragic musical of a young couple in love, who are torn apart by the Vietnam war in 1975 but are held together by a burning passion and the fate of a small child. The conflicting cultures and ideologies of the world meet violently in Saigon. Cultures clash and ways of life battle on a grand scale. At the eye of this storm stand the two lovers, Kim, a Vietnamese girl who is forced to work in a sex shop and Chris, an American marine guard at the U.S. embassy. When Saigon falls and the old city disappears forever under the red bannersand yellow stars of the Viet Cong, Chris not realizing Kim is pregnant, is forced to evacuate with the U.S. forces from the country. He returns home and eventually marries, a few years later he learns of his son now living in Bangkok. Chris and his wife, Ellen return to find Kim who is determined to make Chris take their son back to America at any cost. Director Michelle Aguillon assembles a huge and multitalented cast to handle this splendid show that is filled with soaring ballads mixed with comic relief numbers to create a production that is rewarded at the end of the evening by a well deserved standing ovation.
Michelle uses three different playing areas to keep the action of the show flowing from one scene to the next. The helicopter scene in the second act is well done in Act 2 where the soldiers leave Saigon and Kim is left behind. Music director Wayne Ward leads his orchestra and cast through 64 musical moments in this all singing opera like show. (Some of the numbers sound like songs from "Les Miz",(which is also a Boublil and Schonberg show) "The King & I" and "Jesus Christ Superstar'') The standout harmonies are in the girls songs, "The Movie in My Mind" where they envision their escape from Saigon and the Wedding song and the boys number "Bui-Doi" which is about the children the soldiers left behind at the end of the war. Choreographer Patricia Strauss supplies the many dance numbers including the sex shop enticing dance ( like the Kit Kat girls from "Cabaret") the scary marching Viet Cong "The Morning of the Dragon" and the patriotic type dance in "The American Dream". The combination of their talent comes across to an appreciate crowd.
The biggest scene stealer of this show is Peter Adams as Engineer who helps the GI's by supplying them with girls in his sex shop and gives the needed comic moments to escape from the harshness of the war. (The Emcee in "Cabaret" can be seen at times in this character.) He is a triple threat performer who wows you with his talent. Peter's voice is powerful and soars off the charts in his numbers. His most impressive songs are the well known vaudeville type "The American Dream" where he sings about finally escaping from Bangkok and "If You Want to Die in Bed" which vocally reminds you of Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar"but with a comic twist. Peter is a powerhouse performer who captivates you all night long. Kim is played by Tina Mateo, a first semester vocal student from Berklee College of Music. Her sweet soprano voice is heard in her solos "Unicorn" "Sun and Moon" reprise and "I Will Die for You" which is sung to her son and closes Act 1 and in the pretty ballads with Chris. Her best moments are the confrontation songs with Thuy and Ellen where the mother tigress emerges to protect her cub. (Her mike needs to be boosted up in the quiet moments of the show but this is an opening night with audience and I know it will be corrected.) Michael Parsons plays Chris with the needed strength and anguish of this tortured soldier. His tenor voice enthralls the audience with the lovliness of his first solo, "Why, God, Why" where he wonders why he finally found the girl of his dreams in the hell of Vietnam, as well as in the two ballads with Kim called "Sun and Moon" and "Last Night of the World" which is a gorgeous and displays the raw emotions of being in love but being able to control your destiny. 5 year old Jolo Barcinas played Chris and Kim's son, Tam on opening night and his mere presence captures the hearts of the audience. (Janrey Javier plays Tam at alternating shows.)
Chris' best friend, John is played by Jamie Cepero who makes this soldier buddy into a warm and caring friend, eventually helping Chris to find his long lost son. His voice soars in "Bui-Doi" which opens the second act and is sung with the harmonizing men's chorus as well as thoughout the show. Chris' American wife, Ellen is winningly played by Heather Hannon. This tall statuesque brunette conveys the confusion at Chris' behavior and eventual realizes the horrors of his past life in Saigon. Her fantastic voice is heard in the counterpoint song with Kim called "I Still Bellieve" and in the confrontation song called "Kim and Ellen". Heather is bound for New York and after seeing her in this show you can understand why. Kim's cousin, Thuy, who she was pledged to be married to, by her parents many years ago, is played by Justin Budinoff. He is the villain of the show who tries to take Tam away from Kim. Justin handles this role wonderfully, creating a character who represents the evil and repressive behavior of the Viet Cong. Elaine Chow plays Gigi, one of Engineer's girls, and she gets to sing the lead in haunting and pretty, "The Movie in my Mind" with the other girls. She also gets to play Kim later on this long run. The energetic chorus sings and dances up a storm creating this topnotch musical treat. So for a fabulous musical in its area debut, be sure to catch "Miss Saigon" at Turtle Lane Playhouse in a quaint and rustic area of Newton, MA. ( A word of thanks to Christian T. Potts who asked me to review this show. He will be playing the lead role of Chris at future performances. I'd also like to say hi to Nancy McArthur, the General Manager of Turtle Lane. I worked for her 19 years ago at Theatre by the Sea in Matunuck, RI .)