Monday December 17 5:37 am

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

"Miss Saigon" - Review by Alan Bresloff

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It was also nice to see a few Chicago faces grace the stage in this touring company. Christine Bunuan as Gigi has done tours before and is as solid as ever in this one. Alexander Aguilar, a familiar name in Chicago’s musicals is an ensemble member ( and as I always say, they are highly important to making a musical complete). Congrats!

It is hard to believe that this musical, written by Claude-Michel Schonberg (music) with lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil is almost 30 years old, and that many young people are somewhat unfamiliar with some of the events of a “non-war” called Viet Nam. This is the story of a young Vietnamese girl , Kim ( The lovely Emily Bautista), who is orphaned by the “battle” and to survive becomes a waitress/prostitute in a local bar that is frequented by the American soldiers from the nearby base. The man who brings her to his place is called The Engineer (Red Concepcion is superb and is different from every other man I have seen in this role). The Engineer has one goal in life and that is to live “The American Dream” ( this is a huge production number in the second act that I always find spine-tingling and this actor who did not look right to start, won me over during the two and a half hours. He is terrific!).

Kim meets Chris (deftly handled by Anthony Festa) a shy soldier and goes back to his bunk. In most versions it is more like a cabin/hut, but in this set, they are like rooms in a three -story motel-like building. It works. She falls in love with him and he with her. During the fall of Saigon, Chris leaves and while e had made every attempt to bring her with him, it was not to be and he leaves the country to head back to the United States and his ‘other life”. Kim , however, has a child and raises him on her own, hoping that one day Chris will return for them. Chris, of course, has no knowledge of the child or that Kim is even alive. He meets Ellen (Stacie Bono), marries her and starts his new life, childless. He has nightmares every night and we learn that they are visions of his getting away and Kim never showing up for their departure.

The story goes into the history of war orphans left behind by soldiers having flings with locals and children being born. There is a song “Bui Doi” that opens up the second act where Chris’s best friend John (J. Daughtry is powerful) explains about these kids who were left behind and how the government has to do something to make it all good. This is a stirring musical piece with videos of the faces of these children and the sound of a solid mens choir doing the singing. Still gets to me after seeing at least 16 productions of this show. In fact, there are many moments in the play where I feel for the people, both those in Viet Nam and what they have endured and the two lovers who were not destined to have the happy ending. Speaking of endings, I suggest you bring some tissues. You will need them!

While Viet Nam is just a memory for some of us and others had friends and relatives that were lost or changed from this “battle”, the story is of even greater importance now. There are small wars today that are tearing communities apart and as always, the United States is there, ready to keep the peace. This is a story of history, back in the 1970’s and also being made as we view this spectacular production!

This is a powerful and highly energetic cast, playing many roles to tell a powerful story. Since this is a play with very little actual dialogue, and is considered an “American Musical Opera” by many, song titles are not as familiar to most people. The ones of great importance are the opening “The Heat Is On”, “Why, God Why” ( Kim and Chris), “If You Want To Die In Bed” ( one of the Engineer’s numbers-wow!), and of course, “The American Dream”! This cast is powerful. I am not certain which of the five children played Tam ( the child) so I will mention them all: Jace Chen, Ryder Khatiwala, Fin Moulding, Melanie Ramirez and Sarah Ramirez. On opening night, Ryder did the role. Great stage presence!

This is what they call a bus and truck road company so they do not stay in one place for long periods. If you want your chance to see “Miss Saigon” at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, you only have until December 8th. The performance schedule is as follows:

Tuesdays 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m. (NO THANKSGIVING SHOW)
Fridays 7:30 p.m. 11/23 adds a 2 p.m. performance
Saturdays 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m. added 11/18 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $35- $120 and can be purchased at any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices, by calling the Broadway In Chicago ticketline 800-775-2000 or online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com

The Cadillac Palace Theatre is located at 151 West Randolph with many garages and lots for parking and easy to get to via public transportation.