The epic “Miss Saigon”, showing at TPAC through June 9, vividly and historically takes you back in time. Every detail about the production mesmerizes as it captures the essence of Saigon in the 1970s and the atrocities people faced. You do not need to know anything about the Vietnam War to appreciate the story, but if you’re a stickler for details, you might want to brush up on your history before the performance.
Although a major part of the overall production, “Saigon” isn’t just about the scenery and costumes. At the core is a love story with a tragic ending. Based on the opera “Madame Butterfly”, “Saigon” tells the story of Kim who is starting her first day at Dreamland bar and brothel, and Chris, an American Marine. Through two acts, we are taken through an emotional rollercoaster from love and bliss to tragedy and desperation.
Love and Tragedy
As is not uncommon during wartimes, many women try to secure American husbands so they could come to the United States and flee the communistic reign of terror. This is the focus of the first act of “Saigon”. As Kim, played by Emily Bautista, starts her first day at Dreamland, the girls compete to become “Miss Saigon” where the owner, The Engineer who is played by Red Conceptión, is raffling off the winner of this competition to one of the Marines. The Engineer tells the girls “One of these boys might be your ticket out”. He is also persistently scheming to find his ticket out of Saigon.
The rest of the first act finds Kim and Chris, played by Anthony Festa, falling in love, planning their vows, but, in the end, being separated when the US is evacuated from Vietnam. Unable to be rescued by Chris, Kim goes into hiding and during the next three years the communist regime envelops Saigon and it becomes Ho Chi Minh City. Back in the US, Chris puts the trauma behind him and goes forward with his life which includes a new wife.
The second act takes us to Atlanta where John (played by J. Daughtry), a former Marine and one of Chris’ friends, works with an organization to reunite Bui-Doi, children conceived during wartime, with their American fathers. It is through this work that Chris learns Kim is still alive and that he has a son, Tam (played by Haven Je). As the act continues, Chris, his wife Ellen, John, The Engineer, Kim, and Tam are all united as they try to decide the best course of action to have Chris in Tam’s life. In an effort to ensure her son the best life, Kim makes the ultimate sacrifice.
An Immersive Experience
The stage was immersive with its attention to detail. The scene where Chris is torn from Saigon leaving Kim behind brings an extra component to the stage that I was not expecting. The cast was on point during the entire show. Bautista, who played Kim, understudied the part in the 2017 Broadway revival of “Saigon”. Her vocals were chilling at times and brought the emotion of the story to life. Red Conceptión makes the audience cringe with his constant hustling but at the same time laugh and his relentless scheming. The one who stole the show, and the hearts of the entire audience, was Haven Je in the role of Tam. “Saigon” is Je’s professional debut and her parents met on tour with Miss Saigon 20 years ago.
This production does use flashing lights, strobes, fog, and live gunshots, so plan accordingly. Also, use discretion if planning to bring children as this production does contain adult themes and language.
No matter if you are an experienced theater-goer or a first-timer, this performance is sure to draw out all the emotions.
BEFORE YOU GO:
Who/What: Miss Saigon
Where: TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall
When: June 4-9, 2019
Why: Experience the acclaimed new production of the legendary musical Miss Saigon, from the creators of Les Misérables.
How: for more information and tickets visit https://www.tpac.org/event/2019-06-04-to-2019-06-09-miss-saigon/