Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Miss Saigon"

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entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"Miss Saigon"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Encore Repertory Company's current show is The Rhode Island premiere of Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's, "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. Boubil and Schonberg also wrote "Les Miserables" and together with Richard Maltby Jr. bring Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" into the modern world. The conflicting cultures and ideologies of the world meet violently in Saigon where cultures clash and ways of life battle on a grand scale. At the eye of this storm stand these 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 banners and the yellow stars of the Viet Cong, Chris not realizing that Kim is pregnant, is forced to evacuate with the U.S. forces from the country. She falls in with her former employer, the procurer of sex slaves, the Engineer, who is determined to reach America with her son as the passport he needs and pretends to be her brother. The three of them then move to Bangkok. Chris returns home and eventually marries, a few years later he learns of his son. He and his wife, Ellen travel to Bangkok to find Kim who is determined to make Chris take her son back to America at any cost. Director Eric Desnoyers assembles a multitalented cast to fill all these roles while musical director Stephen DeCesare not only taught these intricate melodies and harmonies to the cast but plays lead keyboards and conducts a four piece orchestra while choreographer Kevin Patrick Martin not only taught the dances but he and Eric stage these picture postcard moments with their performers. This terrific show is a masterpiece with its soaring ballads, comic songs and gut wrenching dramatic acting and is rewarded with a standing ovation at the curtain call.

Eric keeps the action flowing throughout the show with fast set changes and the helicopter scene is fantastic, winning applause for it. His direction and blocking of his performers is marvelous and he casts each of the roles beautifully bringing out the best in them. Eric also designed the set for the show and marks his first time directing a large scale musical. Stephen's conducting and playing the lead keyboards of the 64 musical numbers is amazing. He and the orchestra sound splendid as does the cast in this all sung pop epic opera show. Some of the musical numbers sound like "Les Miserables", "The King & I", "South Pacific", "Evita" and "Jesus Christ Superstar". The standout group numbers are "The Movie in My Mind" where the girls envision their escape from Vietnam, "The Wedding Song" where Chris and Kim pledge themselves to each other, "The Heat is on in Saigon" and "Bui-Doi" which is a tear jerking number about the children left behind at the end of the war. Kevin's choreography is topnotch, too. Some of his dance numbers include the sex shop dance by the girls who are reminiscent of the girls from the Kit Kat Club in "Cabaret", the scary marching of the Viet Cong in "The Morning of the Dragon" and the patriotic type of dance, kick line and pinwheel in "The American Dream". This latter number stops the show with its brilliant execution and Eric has dollars bills fall from the ceiling at the close of it. Kevin also appears as one of the soldiers in the show, displaying his tenor voice and splendid dancing skills, too.

Leading this cast as Kim is Helena Rabasco who has a powerful voice which fills the theater with her fantastic soprano voice. Her many solos include "Unicorn", "Sun and Moon" reprise and "I Will Die for You" which she sings to her young son, leaving the audience in tears at its poignancy. Her other numbers include "Movie in My Mind", "Kim and Chris Dance", "This Money's Yours", "Sun and Moon" and "Last Night of the World", a gorgeous duet that stops the show. Helena also sings "Please", "I Still Believe", "Kim & Engineer" and "Paper Dragons". She is remarkable in this role. The biggest scene stealer in this show is Neil Santoro as the Engineer, who helps the GI's by supplying them with girls in his sex shop called Dreamland and later on entices tourists in a Bangkok sex shop. He supplies the needed comic moments to escape from the harsh reality of the war. The Engineer is reminiscent of the Emcee in "Cabaret". Neil's voice is fantastic and his most impressive numbers are the well known vaudeville type song "The American Dream" where he sings and dances about finally escaping from Bangkok, "If You Want to Die in Bed" which vocally reminds you of Judas in "Superstar", "The Night of the Dragon" where he pleads for his life before the Viet Cong and his two duets with Kim, "Kim & Engineer" and "Paper Dragons''. Kevin Hanley is terrific as he plays Chris with the necessary anguish and pathos this part calls for. His tenor voice soars in his solo "Why, God, Why" where he wonders why he finally found the girl of his dreams in the hell of Vietnam, the song is reminiscent of "Younger Than Springtime'' from "South Pacific. His powerful voice is also heard in his duets with Kim, "Sun and Moon" and "Last Night of the World" which displays the raw emotions of being in love but not being able to control your destiny. 6 year old Annabelle Hood who plays Kim and Chris' son, Tam doesn't utter a word but captures your heart from her first entrance to her last.

Brian Lopes is dynamite as Chris' best friend, John. He makes this soldier buddy into a warm and caring friend, eventually helping Chris find his long lost son. Brian shows off his excellent tenor voice to sell the emotion packed "Bui Doi" in the opening of Act 2 while a black and white film is shown onstage and the men's chorus' harmony in this song is breathtaking. He also sings in many numbers including the helicopter escape, "Please" with Kim and "Ellen & Chris". Chris' American wife, Ellen is wonderfully played by Jess Andra who conveys the confusion at Chris' bad dreams and behavior and her eventual realization of the horrors he suffered in Vietnam. Her lovely voice is heard in the counterpoint song with Kim called "I Still Believe" and in the confrontation songs called "Kim & Ellen" and "Chris & Ellen". Kim's cousin Thuy who she pledged to marry many years ago is played by Lucky Rattan who oozes the right amount of evilness as this repressive agent of the Viet Cong. Thuy is the villain of this show who tries to take Tam away from Kim. Lucky gets to show off his powerful tenor voice in "Thuy's Intervention", "The Night of the Dragon", "The Coo-Coo Princess","Thuy's Death" and "Thuy's Ghost". The last time I reviewed Lucky when he was Schroeder in "Charlie Brown" at RIC in 2000. Meagan Bruneault who is a pretty brunette is the sexy, Gigi, one of the Engineer's girls and her strong voice is heard in the opening montage, the wedding song and "The Movie in My Mind". Kudos to the singing and dancing chorus. So for a splendid musical RI premiere, be sure to catch "Miss Saigon".

"Miss Saigon" (15 - 17 October)
@ Stadium Theatre, 28 Monument Square Main Street, WOONSOCKET RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide