ma-anne dionisio as kim and members of the ensemble
photo by cheol joon baek
In 1980 Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil created a smash-hit musical called Les Misérables, the third longest running musical in Broadway’s history and the longest running musical in the West End. The show is currently in its 25th year at the Queen’s Theatre in London. In 1989, Boublil and Schönberg teamed up once again to create Miss Saigon, which is being produced by dancap productions and plays at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until August 1st, 2010.
It seems as though the writers sought to capitalize on all that had made Les Misérables so successful when working on Miss Saigon that they followed their formulaic path a little too closely. The result is that Miss Saigon tries valiantly to be Les Misérables, with the sweeping score and the imagery of barricades, whores with hearts of gold, marches with red flags flying, a woman dying in her unrequited love’s arms… but it never soars on its own wings and lacks the substance and originality to achieve the greatness it desires.
Loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon is set in Vietnam during the 1970s and centers around a Vietnamese bar girl and concubine, Kim, and her doomed romance with Chris, an American GI. Like in Les Misérables, Miss Saigon is a sung-through musical, a concept that is often problematic for character development and making plausible leaps in an epic plot. Capturing the audience’s attention and emotional investment is especially difficult for Miss Saigon, I think, because, with the exception of “Last Night of the World” the songs are surprisingly unmemorable.
The dancap production comes to Toronto from the Pittsburgh CLO
and is directed and choreographed by Barry Ivan. Despite feeling a smidgen small for the expansive Four Seasons Centre’s stage, the direction, and constant flashy, glitzy, drop sets and the proficient dance numbers are all alluring to the eye. Yet, even the lacklustre writing inhibits what I am certain could have been some incredible performances. Kevin Gray plays the sleazy “Engineer,” a role reminiscent of M. Thénardier drained of all his comic sensibilities, and there is a moment when his charm and panache spill beyond his cardboard character, but mostly he remains sadly boxed in.
Aaron Ramey has a gorgeous voice as Chris, as does Becca Ayers as Ellen, who infuses her character with much emotion and anguish that she helps to draw the audience in. Chloe Stanford, at six years old, plays Tam and on Opening Night got the biggest laugh of the entire show, despite the fact that her character does not speak. Despite everything, however, Ma-Anne Dionisio is a revelation as Kim. Her voice is so sweet and soaring that it almost does not matter that many of the lyrics she is singing are trite and the melodies from each song tend to blend together. Her voice holds the audience in captive musical theatre bliss.
Miss Saigon seems to me to be a watered down version of Les Misérables, an intimation bordering on parody if it did not take itself so seriously. Yet, to its merit, Miss Saigon has achieved its own historical place as the tenth longest running musical on Broadway and so it obviously holds an appeal with the public, despite my criticisms of it. The production at the Four Seasons Centre is an entirely solid one, and Ma-Anne Dionisio’s performance is one that even a Saigon sceptic can feel fortunate to have seen.
dancap’s production of Miss Saigon plays at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West) until August 1st, 2010. For more information or to book your tickets please call 416.644.3665 or visit this website http://www.dancaptickets.com/pages/miss-saigon.
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