Last night, I was incredibly excited to head to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts to enjoy Boublil & Schönberg’s Miss Saigon presented by Cameron Mackintosh.  I first saw the politically provocative, tragic love story on Broadway in my early twenties. I was instantly drawn to the gripping story of an orphaned young woman forced to choose between her child’s opportunity and well-being in the Land of the Free and her own life in a land that was no longer hers.

You can imagine why I was eager to get to this show, given the state of our current cultural climate.  Alas, this production did not live up to the memory I have catalogued in my mind.  Sure, it’s been twenty years––and I’m no longer that bright-eyed dreamer––but I’m still a theater nerd to the core.

If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you know that I never shy away from gushing praise; I avoid overly judgmental criticism; and I adore adding alliteration and puns to pack more punch in presenting my point. The simple fact is, as a performer, choreographer and writer myself, I would rather exert my energy encouraging other artists in their creative endeavors.  Most importantly, sharing an honest point of view for anyone reading and potentially inspired to support aforementioned artists and their work.

The stage was set in a dark burgundy themed replication of what I presume was a more authentic depiction of what Saigon might have looked like toward the end of the Vietnam War.  The sets were cumbersome and I found myself watching the actors struggle to transition between scenes. To be clear, I have nothing against performers moving props on stage, I’m just curious why the choreographer didn’t employ more of the well-trained dancers to inventively navigate through these surroundings.

The cast was no doubt pouring their passion into the performance, still there was a noticeable disconnect between the staging, story, and songs.  The music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Richard Maltby, Jr. & Alain Boublil felt rushed and sometimes challenging to understand.

01.MISS_SAIGON_TOUR_9_20_18_2126 r photo by Matthew Murphy 03.MISS_SAIGON_TOUR_9_19_18_1050 r photo by Matthew Murphy (1) 04.MISS_SAIGON_TOUR_9_21_18_5357 r photo by Matthew Murphy 05.MISS SAIGON. Company. Photo Matthew Murphy and Johan Persson (2) 06.MISS_SAIGON_TOUR_9_21_18_5953 r photo by Matthew Murphy 09-MISS_SAIGON_TOUR_BuiDoi
Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Red Concepción (center as ‘The Engineer’) and the Company perform ‘American Dream’ in the North American Tour of Miss Saigon - Photo by Matthew Murphy

I was saddened that the stage was overflowing with athletically toned and talented performers who were underused in terms of choreography and overused regarding the scenes that incorporated unpolished moves and sloppy, lackluster formations representing (what could have been) a chilling and impactful commentary on Communism.  I sat in my seat confused and struggling to grasp the direction of the accomplished, Laurence Connor.

Thankfully, I found comfort in Emily Bautista’s voice and genuine portrayal of “Kim”.  Actor, Red Concepción provided several moments that had me and the always supportive Orange County audience laughing out loud.  The brightest standout by far was the diversity of this sizable cast.

I was encouraged to see that a National touring company was still capable and willing to employ such a varied and ample cast.  Sadly, I think the size and scope of this production overpowered the simplicity and beauty of the love story I remember from twenty years ago.  Especially, now that buzz words like, “refugees” and “boarder walls” are present on our minds, this production attempted to explore a fresh perspective on the always repeating pattern of history but fell very short.

Whether you’re a lifelong fan of Miss Saigon or this would be your first time experiencing the musical, I encourage you to approach this production with fresh eyes.

Written by Matthew Shaffer for LA Dance Chronicle, October 5, 2019.

Miss Saigon continues at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts through October 13, 2019. For more information and tickets, click here.