Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Music by: CLAUDE-MICHEL SCHONBERG
Lyrics by: RICHARD MALTBY, JR., and ALAIN BOUBLIL
Original French Lyrics by: ALAIN BOUBLIL
Additional Material by: RICHARD MALTBY, JR.
Directed and Choreographed by: RICHARD STAFFORD
Review by Craig Idlebrook
It’s not often that a soap opera can double as a critique of American foreign policy, but North Shore Music Theatre’s production of Miss Saigon succeeds in creating a surreal love story in which American exceptionalism finds its gory limits.
The story shifts between the final days of the Vietnam War and its immediate aftermath, weaving a simple and haunting love story between the two eras. In April, 1975, an American G.I., Chris (Jason Forbach), meets a newly-hired Vietnamese call-girl, Kim (Rona Figueroa), in Saigon, a city whose residents are living on borrowed time. No one can accept their impending fate, not the Americans, who don’t remember the taste of military defeat, nor the Southern Vietnamese, who have nowhere to go. Instead, they fiddle while the rice paddies are burning. The only clear-headed character is a quick-witted pimp and bar owner named the Engineer (Francis Jue), who never stops scheming to survive.
Like so many in the city, Kim and Chris fall into a desperate and violent love affair that they try to keep alive through force of will. But in 1978, Chris, back in America, only must contend with nightmares in his comfortable Atlanta home, while Kim, in Vietnam, still lives them. The mismatch of desires creates a dangerous spark that can only end badly.
While the play’s haunting and simple music and love-story are enough for a good night of theater, Miss Saigon also succeeds as an allegory of America’s dangerous ADHD focus on foreign policy. We are consumed with a country until we are done with it, and the countries we touch will never be the same again, even long after we’ve moved on elsewhere to contain communism, or terrorism, or whatever –ism is in vogue.
Director Richard Stafford makes all the right calls to maximize the talent of his cast. Jue is allowed full license to bring a beautiful physicality to the Engineer, even while maintaining an eerie realism to the larger-than-life character. The Engineer could easily have devolved into caricature, but Jue constructs layers upon layers into the character’s psyche, until even the Engineer doesn’t know what he really thinks. Paz, in contrast, keeps her mania locked deep inside the lovesick soul of Kim, allowing it to bubble to the surface in a way that makes even her most violent choices seem utterly logical. Forbach has a compelling voice, but lacks depth as Chris, but even he’s well positioned as a romantic hero who ultimately chooses the easy way out.
The helicopter may look a bit sophomoric, but I hate prop centerpieces anyway. The frantic action of those trying to escape their fates and the stranger-than-fiction tone that Stafford unleashes allow the audience’s mind to forget the technical trappings of a play and be transported to a turbulent time where all the rules were broken.