More than 20 years since its Broadway debut, “Miss Saigon” remains emotionally affecting. Loosely based on “Madama Butterfly,” David Belasco’s turn-of-the-century dramatization of the story of an Asian woman abandoned by her American soldier lover was written by the “Les Miserables” team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, with co-lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. The play relives the human toll of the Vietnam War by focusing on the plight of the civilians living there circa the infamous, hellish fall of Saigon in 1978. Called “soft opera,” the entire story is told through lyrics. Even though, at times, the lyrics are banal and repetitive, the score is lush and melodic, the orchestration and execution beautiful, the singing stirring.
As the inaugural production of the new Manatee Performing Arts Center, the production suits the space well. Both are large yet intimate. Designed by Marc Lalosh, small sets are wheeled onto the large stage; the backdrop of slatted wood suits the mood, as does the metal chain-link fence, and the lights and platform that make up the famous helicopter scene used to dramatically illustrate the anguish of those left behind when the American troops evacuate.
Smoothly directed and choreographed by Rick Kerby, the production moves at a good pace, flowing through scenes of alternating hope and despair. Aaron Cassette’s musical direction is lofty, except when hampered by a few technical glitches.
Holly Rizzo is perfect as the lead character, Kim, a 17-year-old who has been forced into prostitution after her parents were killed in the war. The play essentially lives or dies with her, and she delivers an idealistic resolute, loving young woman with a beautiful, shining voice.
The engineer, played by multitalented Omar Montes, with his strong voice and charismatic acting, also carries the show, from the other end of the spectrum. He represents those who not only survive but thrive on the war, profiting first from the French and later the Americans, by exploiting women and selling whatever he can acquire. He wants to immigrate to New York, which he envisions as a paradise of gaudy sleaze, where he can appease his greed in the land of plenty, epitomized in the song, “American Dream.”
William E. Massuck plays Chris, Kim’s lover and father of her child. The lesser character of John, however, is more strongly written, and in it, Brian Chunn strongly stands out.
If you go
“Miss Saigon” runs through April 14, at Manatee Players. For more information, call 748-0111.
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