Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil
Arts Club Theatre
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
May 19 – July 17
Give director Bill Millerd and the Arts Club credit for courage,
and points for their mixed success in trying to replicate a mega-musical
without really having the mega-means.
The original huge (and hugely expensive) cast, chorus and orchestra
of Miss Saigon become a still-big-for-Vancouver cast of 20, including
at least ten Asian actors, plus Bruce Kellett’s six musicians.
And this production manages to pull off the infamous special
effect of a helicopter landing on the American consulate roof
during the chaotic fall of Saigon in 1975, even on the smallish
But the singing needs to be good enough to meet the challenge
of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s difficult
dramatic score. And without all the big-budget whizz-bang of
the original, it quickly becomes clear that this is a show with
no great songs and a pretty conventional plot. Madame
Butterfly it’s not, nor Apocalypse
Now, and certainly not Schönberg
and Boublil’s masterpiece, Les
Miz. But there’s still
a lot here to like.
The story at the centre of Puccini’s opera is updated to
the last days of the Vietnam War when disillusioned American
Marine Chris (Jonathan Winsby) and demure Vietnamese peasant
girl Kim (Nena Lazo), who comes to Saigon from the countryside
after her family has been killed, play out their doomed affair.
They fall in love, he vows to take her home with him, they get
separated, she has his child, he marries an American gal, and
you know the rest.
Maybe it’s a guy thing but I found the romantic plot utterly
unaffecting. The love songs are dull, the musical mood mostly
downbeat, and though Winsby and Lazo make a cute couple, they
don’t have much chemistry.
She’s a lovely actor with a crystalline voice. He can sing
too, but has some trouble with the crescendos and sometime seems
to be reaching for a note. Others in the cast also have this
problem with the result that vocal emotion often takes the form
Where the show really cooks is in the ultra-cynical subplot
involving the Engineer (John Mann), a Vietnamese hustler who
runs the Saigon
strip club and is desperate to get to the USA where he can maximize
his capitalist talents.
Mann is a terrific singer and always interesting to watch.
With his shaved head and elastic physicality he looks like Jim
Riddler doing the MC in Cabaret, and he knows how to sing this
stuff. He anchors the evening’s biggest and best production
numbers, including its one showstopper, “The American Dream.”
The female chorus of strip-club dancers is almost embarrassingly
sexy, there’s a cool Asian lion-dance, and I yearned for
more of Valerie Easton’s always vivid and energetic choreography.
Matt Palmer as Chris’ friend and Robyn Wong as a bar-girl
stand out among the strong performances across the ensemble.
Call this a Hit-and-Miss Saigon.