Monday, April 24, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Miss Saigon TOP PICK


Miss Saigon
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil 
Lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. with additional Lyrics by Michael Mahler

By  Lauren Yarger
A revival of the Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil (the team that brought us Les Miserables) classic, almost 25 years after the show first arrived on Broadway, brought "ho hum" as my first thought. 

After all, the Viet Nam War is a bummer to me and so is the Madame Butterfly theme -- the show is billed as an epic love story, but buying a prostitute doesn't usually land on my list of themes for that category. While the score is beautiful, I had seen the most recent tour of the musical, directed by Nicholas Hytner, and found the story dated. Well, let's just say that first thoughts aren't always correct.

This Broadway version, brilliantly directed by Laurence Connor, is moving and feels relevant for today. Eva Noblezada makes an outstanding Broadway debut as Kim, a 17-year-old Vietnamese girl who finds herself at the sleazy Saigon bar run by "The Engineer" (Jon Jon Briones) who runs a contest to crown one of his prostitutes "Miss Saigon," and get more money for her services to an American soldier.

Kim is bought by John (Nicholas Christopher) for his pal, Chris (Alistair Brammer), but they find something more than a regular night of sex for hire. For Chris, Kim provides an escape from the horrors of war. Chris' gentleness combined with her first sexual experience causes Kim to fall in love. 

The two are separated during the fall of Saigon (and yes, the famous helicopter makes an appearance) and after giving up on his search for Kim, Chris goes back to his regular life in the States, marrying his girlfriend, Ellen (Katie Rose Clarke) and never mentioning Kim, except to call out her name during nightmares.  Kim, meanwhile does what she has to do to survive and hides the son she bore Chris: Tam (I saw cute-as-a-button Jace Chen in the role shared with other child actors). When her secret is revealed to Thuy (Devin Ilaw), the man to whom she had been promised in marriage and he threatens the boy, Kim does what she has to do to protect her son. 

Noblezada produces an amazing transformation from innocent child to mature mother and maintains it until a flashback scene where she is a young girl again. Her portrayal is riveting and far beyond the abilities of most actors her age. Her singing voice is lovely boasting a wide range and is more than able to handle all of the belts required. "I'd Give My Life for You" is heart-wrenching.

Meanwhile, the Engineer cooks up a scheme to pass himself off as Kim's brother and use Tam's American father to secure them entry visas to the United States. John, who has been helping orphans fathered by US soldiers, but left behind in Viet Nam, discovers that Chris has a son. Hopes for a reconciliation with the man to whom she believes she is married are dashed, however, when Kim meets Ellen.

Besides Noblezada's gripping performance, other characters are compelling as well. Brammer's Chris is a lot more likable. We get the impression he actually cared for Kim and really was unaware when a wedding ceremony between them took place. Other versions portray him as a user and unfeeling. Briones makes the Engineer humorous and less repulsive. The result is that we are moved by these characters and rooting for them.

Standing out is exceptional lighting by Bruno Poet which enhances all of the creative elements: Sets designed by Totie Driver, Costumes designed by Andreane Neofitou; Projections designed by Luke Halls; and additional Choreography by Geoffrey Garratt.

James Moore is the Music Director and William David Brohn orchestrates the score that makes up the two hours and 40 minutes of the musical's opera format. Connor's direction brings this one home, making the themes, especially the plight of the refugees, feel very contemporary. This one is a don't miss.

Miss Saigon takes us back to 1975 and doesn't make us regret it at the Broadway Theatre (where it premiered in 1991), 1681 Broadway, NYC. Tickets are $39-$165: saigonbroadway.com.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- From the production: Recommended for 12 + (Miss Saigon contains some scenes and language which may not be suitable for younger audience members, including scenes of a sexual nature.)
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Violence
-- Nudity


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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