SALT LAKE CITY — The Broadway at the Eccles showing of Miss Saigon by Boublil & Schönberg was amazing and beautiful. Though I wouldn’t expect less from a Broadway show, I loved being surprised by each scene change, the lighting, the acting, and the costumes. Though the story is a tough one to sit through (I won’t say how many times I cried), it has many applicable messages for today.
Miss Saigon is based off Madame Butterfly by Puccini from 1904, but instead of being set in Japan, it is set in Vietnam in 1975 when American troops were finally leaving. Kim (Emily Bautista) falls into the hands of The Engineer (Red Concepcion) who gives her a job as a prostitute. She meets Chris (Anthony Festa) and falls for him after he is kind to her. They stick together and end up marrying right before the troops are told to leave. The couple is separated, and the plot jumps to three years later where Kim’s old betrothed Thuy (Jinwoo Jung) tracks her down and demands that she return with him and be his wife. She finally explains why she won’t by showing him her half-american toddler. When he threatens the child, she kills him and flees with The Engineer to Bangkok. Finally hearing word of her, Chris’s friend John (J. Daughtry) seeks her out, and he and Chris fly to Bangkok. When Kim learns of his arrival, she is elated and persuaded by The Engineer to go find him first. She arrives at his hotel room only to encounter his wife, Ellen (Ellie Fishman), and Kim realizes her husband is married to another woman. Kim runs off, and Ellen laments her position. Chris returns and promises Ellen he is faithful to her, and together they go to Kim’s home to see if they can take the child to America with them.
Concepcion did a wonderful job, but I was confused why he was such a focus of the story line. I expected it to be about the lovers, but he kept popping up with enormous solos and dance numbers. Concepcion was amazing at singing, and when he jumped to falsetto during a song, it sounded so clear and perfect, I wanted to clap right then. I loved how Bautista as Kim reacted to him during the scene when The Engineer tracks her down, and their energy made that scene all the scarier as the troops came in. Bautista could not have been cast better, and the depth of her character was visible from the beginning when Kim would lash out suddenly and when she spouted her reasons for being honest to Chris. As far as singing goes, Festa as Chris did an amazing job, and his voice was so gorgeous; however, I expected more from him emotionally. In the last few scenes of the show, I wondered why Festa as Chris seemed to be holding back, and Chris’s reaction to Kim right before the end was half-hearted. I expected much more truth and intensity from someone who had been having nightmares about this girl for so long.
I wish I had been more familiar with the story line before going, because though this show wasn’t hard to follow, it was so well created that I missed all the other stuff going on because I was so focused on the main events. Each actor on stage was doing something interesting. Director Laurence Connor blew me away with his decisions for this show. I loved the way he had characters spaced and how he had the levels throughout each scene, especially the first brothel. There were couples on the stairs, on the chairs, and on the tables. And Kim’s child wiping his mouth after being asked to kiss The Engineer was too funny and cute.
Bruno Poet designed the lighting and left nothing to be desired. The red sunrise at the beginning of the lover’s romance was perfect for the song, “Sun and Moon,” and when the helicopter flew away in Act II, the lights made it look like that huge machine onstage actually went over the audience. Sound was designed by Mick Potter and was very effective. I jumped during the rapid gunfire, and with the helicopter so enormous, he made it sound like it was right there in front of the audience.
Costumes by Andreane Neofitou were splendid, and they thoroughly conveyed the war-torn areas and the more lucrative places. The brothel women were decked out in sparkling bikinis, and The Engineer had on a shiny purple suit. Kim was in a while simple dress nearly the whole show, and it worked perfectly for her. I especially loved the costumes during the song, “The American Dream.” The ladies had huge feathered headdresses and everyone was in red, white, and blue. The huge set piece of the Statue of Liberty’s head hung on the back curtain, enormous and protruding and amazing.
I can’t believe they actually had a real helicopter come out of the backdrop (or a larger replica—it was huge!). It blew me away how powerful it looked hovering over the gates with everyone from Vietnam on the other side screaming to be let on. The scene was heart-wrenching for so many reasons, and I think it really brought to mind our current politics with our strict borders and separation. The hurting people in Vietnam just wanted to get to safety; the scene was deeply moving.
Though any Broadway show is expected to be spectacular, it always feels good to be able to confirm it. This production is well-done, with some minor issues, but overall moving and worth seeing. The story is so sad, and I was crying at the end, but I’m happy to have seen it and even happier I found a parking spot in Salt Lake City.