Big Sets, Big Romance and Big Voices Make Miss Saigon a Must See Revival at Pantages

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Miss Saigon debuted in 1989 in London and opened two years later, running for 10 years on Broadway. Later, in 2014, it returned to the West End for a 25th anniversary revival and played in New York in January of 2018. It’s now at the Pantages Theater for a limited run.

This was the first time I saw Miss Saigon and it was big. Big sets, a big dramatic romance and very big beautiful vocals from the cast. The melodies kept reminding me of Les Miserables. When I later researched the musical I understood why – Miss Saigon was the second big success after Les Miserables for French composer/lyricist team Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil. Both shows are about love and loss and take place amidst violent politically charged turmoil.

Emily Bautista is wonderful and lends a sweet tone to Kim, the Vietnamese peasant girl driven to a life of prostitution in Saigon. Anthony Festa plays Chris, the American GI Kim falls in love with on the night before the fall of Saigon. Although he promises her a new life in America, their separation via an Act II flashback reveals that Chris leaves solo due to an immediate evacuation, leaving Kim at the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam.

The end of the ACT 1 flashes forward three years, and Kim has given birth to Tam (Chris’s son) and is a dancer in a shady Bangkok bar. She still hopes that Chris will rescue her, while he is in America, haunted by the war and married to Ellen (Stacie Bono).

Chris’s army buddy John (J. Daughtry), who post-war heads up an Atlanta organization connecting Bui-Doi (street children conceived during the war) with their American fathers, informs Chris about Kim and Tam. John’s solo “Bui Doi” is accompanied by film footage of children in refugee camps, which was a big tug on the audience’s heart strings.

Comic relief throughout the musical, where all dialogue is sung, comes from the brilliantly cast Red Concepcion as the Engineer, a criminal and a pimp, who sees Tam as a way out once he learns that his father is American. His big showstopper, “The American Dream” is over the top wonderful with male dancers and feathered showgirls dancing around a huge gold Statue of Liberty head which produces a big Cadillac. The car is just one of many innovative staging scenes, including a huge helicopter and a giant Ho Chi Minh head in the first act.

It doesn’t end well for the star-crossed lovers and I felt a bit sad at the end of Miss Saigon, but I was entertained throughout the show and enjoyed the clever set designs by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley; dramatic storyline by Schonberg and Boublil and magnificent performances from the cast. Miss Saigon is playing at the Pantages through August 11, tickets at www.hollywoodpantages.com.

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Shaena Engle
Shaena Engle is a food, lifestyle and travel writer for a variety of publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Pasadena magazine, AOL, The Daily Meal, The San Diego Union Tribune and PokerPro magazine. She has interviewed top chefs including Lidia Bastianich, Michael Chiarello, Hubert Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Jose Andres, and many others. She has authored three books, The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to Las Vegas (Globe Pequot Press), The Best Places to Kiss in Southern California (Beginning Press, a romantic travel guide) and Silver Linings: Triumphs of The Chronically Ill and Physically Challenged (Prometheus Books).  She is also an amateur magician and often writes on gambling, poker and magical happenings.  She also is a freelance consultant on restaurant, food, travel and hospitality public relations and marketing efforts.

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