"The American Dream" gets the showstopping treatment in "Miss Saigon." Photo by Matthew Murphy
Reasons to like, if not love, Miss Saigon:
First, when it’s not overly mired in balladry, it packs an emotional wallop, and does so more than once.
Second, like “Madame Butterfly,” the story that inspired it, it has the guts to end on a tragic note -- in the case of Miss Saigon eschewing the typical big Broadway closing number.
Third, the helicopter scene. Still awesome after 30 years.
The touring production of Miss Saigon inhabiting the Civic Theatre downtown is a reminder of all these assets, in spite of less than ideal acoustics and a serviceable if not particularly memorable cast. Of the three principals, Emily Bautista as Kim, the Vietnamese heroine, stands out. Anthony Festa as her American GI lover Chris can’t match her vocal power, while Red Concepcion makes the signature part of the Engineer more comical than devious.
As with any production of Miss Saigon, the spectacular set pieces, the costumes and the choreography are the star components. The music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, with lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil, ranges from soft poignancy to anthemic, though little of it will have you humming your way out of the theater.
A number near the end of the show that may not be hummable but which is definitely entertaining is the Engineer’s raucous “The American Dream.” This paean to excess, including scantily clad dancers and the humping of a glittering Cadillac, would serve quite nicely as a re-election campaign ad for a certain president.
Miss Saigon runs through Sunday, July 14 at the Civic Theatre, downtown.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat