Theater Review: "Miss Saigon" At La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts
"Miss Saigon" takes place in Saigon, Vietnam (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) at the tail end of the Vietnam War, and then continues the story three years later. Kim (Jacqueline Nguyen), a young, struggling Vietnamese refugee, meets Chris (Kevin Odekirk), an American soldier stationed in Vietnam. The two fall in love and pledge to marry, but war tears them apart. The rest of the story follows their lives both together and apart three years later. Based on Puccini’s opera, "Madame Butterfly," a director’s note calls it “an intensely personal story of the losses we suffer and the sacrifices we make in a world gone mad.”
Most of the leads had beautiful voices, including Lawrence Cummings who played John, an American military officer. His performance of “Bui-Doi” at the opening of the second act was haunting but beautiful. Odekirk also had some wonderful songs as Chris, a fellow soldier, especially in his solo ballad “Why, God, Why,” as he struggles to deal with the difficulties of war.
Nguyen had a wonderful presence as Kim. She opens the show, and commands the attention of the audience though the is just sitting in a bare spotlight. Though her voice was a bit strained at times, she tackled the difficult vocal hurdles of the songs. She easily handled the emotional range of the character, as Kim's life takes many turns.
Unfortunately, the talent of the singers was tainted by faulty microphones which often flared out or had a lot of feedback, which was especially annoying during quiet moments. The volume of the orchestra versus the singing sometimes made the voices sound pre-recorded. But the actors did their best to push through, and it still worked.
The sound problems also affected the dialogue, especially for The Engineer (Joseph Anthony Foronda). This smooth-talking brothel owner plays a pivotal role in both hurting and protecting Kim throughout the story. His fast speech and witty (and cheesey) jokes were sometimes missed by the audience because they were unintelligible. Though this could be from a lack of execution from his part, as even when the jokes could be heard, they still fell flat.
The set, designed by Dustin J. Cardwell, was phenomenal. The wings were closed off with long paper shades that rolled up and down to reveal real cars, elaborate interior home sets, and working helicopters. It seemed ambitious for the stage and group, but it was executed very well.
Lighting designer Steven Young also produced some wonderful images. The lights reflected the variety of locations the show takes place in, ranging from Vietnamese shack, a stripper club, and a military base. The designs helped to add drama to the show, and nively complimented the set designs.
A good chunk of both acts take place in strip clubs, and the choreography and direction of these scenes was awkward at best. The swimsuit-clad girls simulating lap dances just made the audience feel uncomfortable. They seemed to sort of parody the difficult lives the Vietnamese refugees led. However, depicting a Vietnamese brothel and strip club is no doubt a difficult thing to do on stage. But other choreography moments, including a long dance sequence involving acrobatics, ribbon sticks, and large military-inspired movements, were very enjoyable.
Overall, this production is thoroughly entertaining. While it is faulty at parts, overall it is a great show with great performers.
Reach reporter Charlotte Spangler here.