The Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities’ current production of 10-year Broadway hit “Miss Saigon” is a major undertaking, involving a cast of 30-plus, about 50 set changes and over 500 lighting cues. And, yes, there is a helicopter.
The direction by CLOSBC veteran Stephanie Coltrin was brilliant, with dozens of characters darting in and out of seemingly hundreds of scenes. The leads sang wonderfully, given that the score required them to vocalize usually a half-octave above the normal human range. Female lead Jennifer Paz (Kim) said in a previous interview that there was “a lot of angst” in her character. Much of the angst falls upon the composer. Why did songwriter Claude-Michel Schonberg write his principal roles so far above the staff? He must have been mistreated by a soprano in his youth. The writers of the show (music by Schönberg, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil) also created the mega-hit musical “Les Misèrables,” which has several memorable songs and dramatic turns equal to “Saigon.”
Geez, this is a tough show. Act I lasted almost one-and-a-half hours. As there is no libretto, there is absolutely no time for the singers to catch their breath.
If you elect to purchase a ticket to see “Miss Saigon” -- which runs through May 18 -- be certain to visit the restroom before taking your seat. Bring a blanket and pillow, wear comfortable pants that can be unbuttoned during the overture. Loafers are a must. Relax, but forget about napping. This show is loud.
Before visiting the theater, it would be wise to Google “Miss Saigon” to read an interpretation or two of the story. Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” (upon which the show is not so loosely based) is better music and drama and, regardless your familiarity with Italian, you’ll have an equal chance of discerning the plot during a foreign language opera as you do sitting through the first 90 minutes of “Miss Saigon.”
This wasn’t a happy time (Vietnam, late ‘60s early ‘70s). So, a play plot describing this era could be expected to end in melancholy and remorse. No disappointment here. The drama drips at the show’s end. Kleenex for everyone.
Eric Kunze is a believable Chris with a great voice. Paz is spectacular, notably when she sings the first act finale:
I’ve tasted love beyond all fear
And you should know it’s love that brought you here
And in one perfect night when the stars burned like new
I knew what I must do.
Not surprisingly, Kevin Bailey, a CLOSBC veteran, does a great job as “The Engineer.” Basically, he’s Kim’s pimp, but he appears to have a soul, he wants to immigrate to America, and, though slightly oily in his business dealings, his heart is in the right place. Bailey’s performance is the best in the show. Also notable is Misty Cotton, who plays Chris’ modern-day wife, Ellen, and Bonifacio Deoso Jr. (Thuy), who is Kim’s Vietnamese suitor/cousin. He, like Kim, died well.
The orchestra, under the baton of Alby Potts, performed a difficult score perfectly.