For many years, I have been a fan of Miss Saigon. However, tonight is the first night I’ve had a chance to see it. When I say I’ve been a fan, I mean that I’ve listened to the Original Cast Recording (with Lea Salonga) since it was first released. I was never available when the tour came to Chicago in the past. But I was available this time. I got a great deal on a ticket and was determined to see it this time.
My seat was in an “obstructed view” section of the dress circle. But, as usual, it wasn’t that bad. It just meant that the very top of the proscenium wasn’t visible because of the overhang of the balcony seats. The same happened the first time I saw Wicked, which meant I couldn’t see the dragon. It doesn’t deter from enjoying the show.
Regardless, there were seating issues. The first was that there was someone in my seat. The usher had the man and his companion move to their correct seats, which shifted them by one seat. Then that guy decided that he was entitled to both arm rests – and an elbow in my side. AND he also thought it was perfectly okay to pop his right ankle on his left knee…thereby allowing his right knee to encroach on my space. Bastard. A nice gay couple came along and took the two seats to my right – I was hoping to move into one if no one sat there. But, they were sweet and friendly, so I didn’t mind. Plus, they leaned toward each other, so I didn’t have to worry about having my space invaded from both sides. At intermission, I decided to move one row up – there were empty seats. The usher must have noticed the entitled spreader, because she asked me if I wanted to move before I had a chance to do it. I told the gay couple when they returned to use my seat for their coats…so that the entitled spreader didn’t have the chance to do the same.
Overall, Miss Saigon was a good show, seating issues aside. It was raw and raunchy, just what I anticipated it would be. I thought the sets were fantastic and the set changes creative and smooth. The costumes were appropriate, flashy where they needed to be flashy, subdued where they needed to be subdued, and all were right for the time period. I was not impressed with the lighting design, to be honest. I understand that this isn’t a “bright and happy” show, so I did not expect the entire stage to be fully lit. But I did have expectations of being able to see the actors on stage and determine who the focus was on at any given time.
Musically, I was a little disappointed. The actors were all talented and sang well, for the most part. But I also felt like they were singing ahead of the music much of the time. It seemed like there were some sound issues, too, because there were times when I couldn’t really hear the actors singing – their voices couldn’t rise above the orchestra. Also, I don’t know if it was because of new arrangements or what, but sometimes the music was just too fast. For example, in “The Last Night of the World” Kim and Chris rushed through “a song played on a solo saxophone” – it was too staccato and quick. That’s a melodic song. It’s a ballad, a love song. But it wasn’t sung that way tonight. Whether intentional or not, it just didn’t work for me. And, quite honestly, “The Movie in My Mind” was really disappointing. Christine Bunuan, who played Gigi, is a good singer. I just didn’t feel like she had the power in her voice to pull off that song effectively. It felt lacking in texture and nuance.
The standouts for me were Emily Bautista as Kim and Stacie Bono as Ellen. They had the strongest, clearest voices and could handle themselves. The others seemed to be breathing oddly and often had to switch from singing to, what I call, “speaking with emotion” to handle key changes. This was particularly true for Anthony Festa, who played Chris. He was a bit too over the top. Red Concepción as The Engineer was impressive, but I often had trouble understanding him. Whether this was from his performance or the sound/orchestra issues, I don’t know. I thought he hit the right tones for his performance, I just wanted to be able to understanding him more clearly.
Ultimately, Emily Bautista was the real standout for me. She sang beautifully, Acted the hell out of it. And, dammit, she made me cry.
So, in summary, Miss Saigon was a good show. I’m glad I saw it. I just wish it had been better. I’m glad I only ended up paying $40 (ticket and “convenience fees”) to see it.
Brilliant review – I wish the Tribune would publish it!
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