Message about Vietnam war more meaningful than ever

Miss Saigon
By Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Richard Maltby Jr.
Performed by Elena Juatco, Stephen Patterson and company
Directed by David Connolly
Drayton Entertainment Production
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
July 19 – August 4, 2007

Live! On Stage
Review by Mary Alderson

Miss Saigon’s timeless message about the inhumanity of war is being presented thoughtfully and spectacularly by Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend. Based on Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly written in the early 1900’s, Miss Saigon, as the 1970’s update, is even more meaningful today with the United States currently at war in Iraq.
Like Madame Butterfly, the entire story is told in song, with a cast of amazing voices bringing the epic story to life. There are also some similarities to Les Miserables, which is written by the same creative team – it’s a doomed love story, set against a backdrop of war. This is the best dramatic musical to grace Huron Country Playhouse’s stage since Man of La Mancha in 2004.
Chris is a young American GI who falls in love with Kim, a Vietnamese prostitute. They marry in an Eastern ceremony, and then he is forced to leave as Saigon falls. When he can’t find Kim, he assumes that she is dead. Back home, he marries an American, Ellen. Then he learns that he has fathered a child with Kim. Ellen and Chris travel to Bangkok to meet Kim and little Tam, in heart-wrenching circumstances. Obviously, there are no easy answers in this situation created by the horrors of war.
Stephen Patterson is excellent as Chris. He conveys all the emotion of the role with his clear voice. Patterson appeared briefly in The World Goes Round, a musical revue in Playhouse II two years ago. He was a highlight in that show, but left early to move on to a Broadway touring show. Similarly, Stephanie Roth is excellent as Ellen, the American wife. Although her part is not big, her energy and raw emotion in Now That I’ve Seen Her is unforgettable. She was also memorable in The World Goes Round when she brought the house down with her rendition of Maybe This Time from Cabaret.
Lee Siegel plays John, Chris’ friend who informs him that he has a son in Asia. Siegel sings about the forgotten children of Vietnamese mothers and American soldier-fathers, known as ‘bui doi’ or dust of life. His powerful voice, together with the film showing the orphans left no one in the audience with dry eyes. Siegel’s voice will be familiar as Old Deuteronomy, the beautiful tenor in Cats earlier this season.
Elena Juatco plays the challenging role of Kim, the innocent and naïve girl forced into prostitution. Juatco does justice to the many emotional songs and the large, demanding part.
Franc-Anton Harcourt provides the comic relief as the Engineer, a euphemism for pimp. Harcourt has had extensive experience with this part, and plays it well, switching from being a smarmy wheeler-dealer to pandering to the Viet Cong.
Special mention goes to little Jonah Gonzalez-Martinez who plays Kim’s son Tam. He remains stoic and completely in the role in all his scenes.
The American dream number is a delight – all the symbols of the USA are on stage – Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty, right through to Elvis and Marilyn Monroe.
Credit goes to Director/Choreographer David Connolly and music director Charles Cozens for putting this amazing epic together. Jean Claude Olivier’s set and Jeff Johnston Collins’ lighting are flawless. It’s also good to see local talent – Michelle Vanderheyden, formerly of Forest, is costume designer. From the rich Asian silks to the sequinned strippers, and the American Dream extravaganza, Vanderheyden’s work is incredible.
This production of Miss Saigon is an emotionally draining show that leaves the audience exhausted, yet moved and enriched. How fortunate we are to have top quality entertainment in our neighbourhood.
It was a fitting tribute to Ed Mirvish that Miss Saigon opened at HCP the week that Mr. Mirvish passed away. The flamboyant owner of Honest Ed’s store on Bloor Street in Toronto was instrumental in bringing theatre to Toronto and Ontario, making King Street Canada’s theatre district. After refurbishing the Royal Alexandra Theatre Mr. Mirvish built the Princess of Wales Theatre, just to bring Miss Saigon to Canada. The Princess of Wales stage was big enough to land a helicopter and Miss Saigon was a hit! Ed Mirvish would have been pleased with this production of Miss Saigon, even without the helicopter. He will be missed.

Miss Saigon continues with eight shows a week until August 4 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000 or Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463.

Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently the Community Economic Development Officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation.