Jennifer Paz (Kim) and Eric Kunze (Chris) play
the leads in the current CLOSBC production,
You can imagine the pre-season meeting of the braintrusts of the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities (CLOSBC) sitting around the conference table about this time last year. There’s a break in the conversation regarding the 2008 schedule when one unknown participant erupts: “I’ve got an idea! Let’s put on a show that requires a full-sized helicopter and a jeep onstage. The cast is about 30. There’ll be several hundred lighting
cues and maybe 50 set changes. And, we’ll want a full pit orchestra so that we can use the original arrangements.” Blood drains from the face of
Executive Producer James Blackman as dollar signs roll on the inside of his closed eyelids. He picks up the phone and calls to cancel the catered lunch, realizing that through the coming season he and his staff will be brown bagging it. But, I like peanut butter and jelly, he rationalizes to himself. And this week, here it is – helicopter and all. At least the show has a reputation
of great music, long runs, and decades of satisfied audiences.
“Miss Saigon” opened in London in 1989, playing for 10 years. A New York production ran from 1991 – 2001. Combined, there were over 8,300 performances at the two theaters, plus the many road and local productions. CLOSBC’s presentation is the latest, with the first preview (yesterday) falling on an auspicious date: April 30 marked the 33rd anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. The show’s music is by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil – the same
team that created the previously successful “Les Miserables.” “Saigon,”
according to previous production Playbills, is “loosely based on Puccini’s ‘Madame Butterfly.’” Loosely? The story is exactly Puccini’s. Location and time are different. Also, the audience isn’t required to understand Italian. (If you are unfamiliar with “Miss Saigon” or “Madame Butterfly,” now would be a good time to turn to our sports pages because the rest of this article deals a bit with the plot.) Wisely, “Saigon” chooses to forego Puccini’s deluge of red ribbons cascading from the wounded heart in the famous dying scene at the end of both plays. If you’ve never seen “Madame Butterfly,” turn on PBS for three days. It’ll play at least twice. Too bad there weren’t royalty contracts in Puccini’s day. The director (Stephanie Coltrin) and the two leads (Jennifer Paz – “Kim” and Eric Kunze – “Chris”) of CLOSBC’s ”Miss Saigon” met last week to discuss both the difficulties and joys of doing
“Miss Saigon,” plus past shows and future plans.
Paz and Kunze have a long working history together. “We’ve done ‘Saigon’ together. We played the same parts we’re playing here in the first National Touring Company of the show about a hundred years ago,” said Paz. The first tour actually went out in 1992. This petite young lady of Filipino descent has extensive credits in New York, but has worked
regularly, of late, on the West Coast. preview Theater “I’ve been in Seattle the last couple years, but I’ve worked in LA since 1996,” she said. “I’m back and forth between Seattle and LA, depending on where the work is. The last two years,
I’ve been doing a lot of regional theater
in Seattle at Fifth Avenue and the Village Theater.”
Among recent shows in which Paz has starred include “Evita,” “Tommy” and “The Buddy Holly Story.” This summer, she will perform in the world
premiere of “Sakajawea” in the SF Bay Area. Paz calls it a “pop opera.”
“The show was workshopped in Seattle and I did the readings. It will be at the Willows Theater in July and August. It’s based on the actual journals of Lewis and Clark and how this woman helped them through the Northwest Passage as their interpreter, only to realize she kind of betrayed her own people.”
“Saigon” is Paz’ debut at CLOSBC. As for her role as Kim, her experience in the part makes her comfortable. She said she is always concerned about maintaining the health of her voice, however. “The music just goes up there and it stays up there until you can’t go any further,” said Paz. There is no libretto in the two-act musical. It’s singing from curtain to curtain.
Does Paz die well in “Saigon” (a vital scene in the pop opera)? “I hope so,” she said. Director Stephanie Coltrin was more emphatic: “Oh, yes she does!” Added co-star Eric Kunze: “The first time we got to that scene in a runthrough, we did everything. There was the primal scream at the end, and afterward she said, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember this.’”
“I remembered the ringing in my ears,” said Paz.
“She yells good, too,” said Coltrin.“(To Paz) Your screaming the other day when you killed Thuy (Kim’s brother) was great!”
“I do a lot of yelling in this – a lot of angst,” said Paz.
As for Kunze, he is “on the road a lot, but I pretty much hang my hat in San Diego. This isn’t my first time at CLOSBC, though. I worked about 10 years ago – 1988-99 – in ‘South Pacific’ and ‘Damned Yankees.’”
Kunze just got off a seven month U.S.tour of “Whistle Down the Wind,”
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “new musical that’s not so new,” according to Kunze.
The show originally opened in
Washington D.C. in 1997 under direction
of Hal Prince, but closed before
making it to Broadway. “Then it was reworked by Bill
Kenwright, who’s sort of Cameron
Mackintosh part two in London,” said
Kunze. “He did his version in London
and it was a mash. He wanted to see
how it would do in America and, well,
it didn’t. The audiences loved it but, of
course the critics hated it. It’s become
fashionable to not like Webber.”
In the coming months, Kunze will
play “Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Boston, “Saigon” again at the Muni in St. Louis,
then “Evita” in Sacramento.
Of the music in “Miss Saigon,” Kunze
said: “Our conductor (Alby Potts) says
it’s the most difficult show he’s ever
had to conduct, even harder that ‘West
Side Story.’ That’s why the music is so
effective; it’s so thick and it’s always
pulling in different directions.”
Director Coltrin faces her own challenges
with “Saigon”: “It’s a big, big
show; lots of sets, many, many lighting
cues, plus a cast of 31.”
“Aren’t there like 300 lighting cues?”
Kunze asked his director.
“Oh, I’ve asked for more,” answered
Coltrin. “I’m a lighting freak, so it will
probably be more like 500 or 600. I
She said there will be “about 50-60 set
changes. It’s huge. It takes about five
guys to move the helicopter.”
Official opening night for “Miss
Saigon” is Saturday. Let’s hope the
chopper doesn’t crash. “Miss Saigon,” CLOSBC, Redondo
Beach Performing Arts Center, 2224
Artesia, Redondo. Tuesday to Sunday, now
through May 18. Tickets $40-$60. Call
310-372-4477 or visit www.civiclightopera.