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Miss Saigon Wows at Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 1, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Thom Sesma plays the French-Vietnamese club owner who refers to himself as The Engineer in “Miss Saigon”  Photo: Christopher Mueller.

Thom Sesma plays the French-Vietnamese club owner who refers to himself as The Engineer in “Miss Saigon” Photo: Christopher Mueller.

With the Vietnam War as dramatic backdrop, Miss Saigon, presents a poignant tale of doomed love amidst the horrors of war.  This well-known re-interpretation of Puccini’s classic opera, Madame Butterfly, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil, has become one of the longest running shows ever to hit the American stage – – in no small part because of the thousands of Amerasian children called “Bui-Doi” that continue to be part of the greater tragedy.

It’s Saigon in the spring of 1975 near the close of the ‘Great Undeclared War’ when Chris, a young Marine meets Kim, an innocent country girl forced into a life of prostitution.  In a strip club named Dreamland Chris’s buddy, John, buys her attentions, giving her to the forlorn Chris who is searching for meaning in a world gone mad.

The cast of “Miss Saigon” welcomes you to Dreamland, the Vietnamese nightclub where bargirl Kim will meet American GI Chris. Photo: Christopher Mueller.

The cast of “Miss Saigon” welcomes you to Dreamland, the Vietnamese nightclub where bargirl Kim will meet American GI Chris. Photo: Christopher Mueller.

The club’s owner, a crafty con man they call, ‘The Engineer” senses the men’s interest and ups the price.  “Men play the moon to get fresh meat,” he snickers.  Thom Sesma plays the sleazy Svengali to the hilt, delivering a memorable in-your-face performance filled with equal parts charm and smarm.  “The Heat is On in Saigon”  is a number aswirl in strippers, beefy Marines and lounge hustlers, but especially notable for the introduction of Gigi (Cheryl Daro) the sexy pole-dancing queen of the strippers who is crowned Miss Saigon.  When Gigi, Kim and the bar girls commiserate in “The Movie in My Mind”, a song later reprised, we are forced to recognize their despair.

In one fateful night Chris and Kim find love amidst the ruins and pledge to spend their lives together.  Gannon O’Brien (who took over the role of Chris on press night) showed engaging sensitivity and starry-eyed innocence against the fierce pathos of Kim as played by Diana Huey.  Huey is an outstanding actress and singer whose compelling portrayal of a young woman fighting for her dignity and that of the couple’s love child in a country ravaged by war and uncertainty, is magnificent.  Her delivery of “Sun and Moon” to their son, Tam, is a master class in character immersion.

A warm welcome from the girls of Dreamland (from left: Tamara Young, Katie Mariko Murray, Cheryl Daro, Diana Huey, Eunice Bae) in “Miss Saigon” Photo: Christopher Mueller.

A warm welcome from the girls of Dreamland (from left: Tamara Young, Katie Mariko Murray, Cheryl Daro, Diana Huey, Eunice Bae) in “Miss Saigon” Photo: Christopher Mueller.

Theatergoers will be wowed by this brilliantly crafted production.  Signature Theatre’s award-winning Director, Eric Schaeffer, has assembled a cast and crew in spectacular synch.  Kudos to Sound Designer Matt Rowe for the rhythmically clanking and stomping devil-masked dancers and thundering helicopter rotors in the iconic scene of the last plane out of Vietnam, and Lighting Designer Chris Lee’s blood red expression of Communist rule, neon-lit B-girls cavorting erotically, and a hauntingly evil nightmare sequence of the Commissar’s ghost.  Special effects run the gamut from wind to smoke and create an atmospheric ambiance that envelops the audience in a sensory explosion.  And with thirty-four spectacular musical numbers to orchestrate, Music Director Gabriel Mangiante accomplishes a herculean task using both classical and Asian instrumentation.

In this iconic show with plenty of memorable acting to rave over, Diana Huey, Thom Sesma, Christopher Mueller as Thuy, and Chris Sizemore as John, give the performances of their lives.

Chris Sizemore, playing the American soldier John, sings of reuniting families through international aid work (“Bui Doi”) in “Miss Saigon”  Photo: Christopher Mueller.

Chris Sizemore, playing the American soldier John, sings of reuniting families through international aid work (“Bui Doi”) in “Miss Saigon” Photo: Christopher Mueller.

Highly recommended.

Through September 29th 2013 at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

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