PHOTO: Emily Bautista as “Kim” and Anthony Festa as “Chris” in the North American tour of Miss Saigon singing “Last Night of the World”. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Miss Saigon is one of the most successful shows in musical theatre history. The story was first brought to life in London, in 1989. Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg was inspired to write the show after seeing a photo of a Vietnamese mother leaving her child to board a plane to the United States where the child’s father, an ex-GI, would be able to provide the child with a better life.
In Miss Saigon, we are taken to 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War. A tragic romance unfolds between an American GI, Chris, and a young bargirl, Kim, who has lost everything. The songs are opera-esq, a nod to the similar plot of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. You may also be reminded of Les Miserables a bit while listening to the presentation of the lyrics and the dialogue between characters. If so, you’re spot on. Miss Saigon features music by Schönberg and lyrics from Alain Boublil, the team behind Les Mis.
Every number that Kim, played by Emily Bautista, sings is so haunting and bittersweet. “This is the Hour”, “I’d Give My Life For You,” “The Sacred Bird” show off powerful vocals by this young actress. Through her dedication to the role, she makes your heart break for Kim. “Son and Moon”, a duet by Kim and Chris (Anthony Festa), is beautiful and filled with passion that can only be brought forth by two actors who really understand and become a part of their characters.
Miss Saigon is Kim’s story as she struggles to survive the war, hoping Chris will eventually return to her and meet a son he doesn’t know about. However, it’s actor Red Concepcion as the Engineer who really carries Miss Saigon. The Engineers constant comic relief is much needed throughout the show (read more about the actor and his role in our interview here).
Everything about Cameron Mackintosh’s revival of Miss Saigon is tragically beautiful. The special effects and set designs add a deeper layer to the characters, allowing you to imagine how people may have felt during these years around the fall of Saigon. The audience is hooked within the first few minutes as we are taken to Dreamland, a dark stage with bright lights, a bar and brothel where all of the major characters of Miss Saigon are introduced.
Miss Saigon is not happy or upbeat. It’s a definite contrast from other musicals in the Kimmel Center 2018/2019 season. It is, however, a must-experience show for fans of Broadway musicals or historians in general. Miss Saigon shows us consequences of war; a powerful message, secrets uncovered- a reminder of a time and of people we may have forgotten about. “Bui-Doi”, sung so effectively by J. Daughtry, will give you goosebumps and open eyes.
We do see a lot of love in the story though. Love between a man and a woman, a mother and son, a husband and a wife. Even the Engineer, if examined closely, has love for Kim and her son, despite using them as a way out of Saigon.
Not many shows make the audience feel like they are part of the action. Here, you are in Saigon trying to get out and to a safer place. Everything about this show puts you in the shoes of Kim or Chris or the Engineer. Miss Saigon is the most emotional show I’ve seen on stage and if you have a chance to experience, you must. Tickets are available here.