Friday, February 3, 2012

MISS SAIGON Premiere "ascends" by helicopter & ascendant voices

With great risks come even greater rewards. This has been the mantra for the last year at New Candlelight. “Miss Saigon” had never been staged by a local production company, mostly attributed to that pesky- but iconic – descending helicopter scene in Act 2. Design and engineering such a feat separates soldiers from civilians in the world of regional theatre. The show was penned by the duo of “Les Miserables” (you may have heard of it). The plot is nearly as epic; the characters equally flawed; the emotions stirred similarly heart wrenching; the music and lyrics bear resemblance in power and majesty. The duo of Sonny Leo (Director and Choreographer) and Chris Alberts (Producer and Lighting Design) have teamed once again to create transcendent musical theatre. Leads were two newcomers Kim (Dana Kreitz) and Chris (Anthony Connell). Cast aside any notions of musical comedy; this is a serious show. (Vietnam never contributed a lot of yucks). These two characters must not only have soaring voices but must sell the pain, pity and pathos and of their relationship. They are superb. Two locals that Aisle Say has seen in tens of productions give their finest performances. Engineer (Paul Goodman) who has been type cast historically as a 'nice guy', 'you can lean on my shoulder type”, sheds that golly gee image in this slimy, predatory, obsequious role. His “American Dream” was a come-to-Jesus show stopper. For Ellen (Sharon Brown Ruegsegger), the tragic but noble figure is this sorrowful triangle, Aisle Say always has admired her voice. She rose to another plateau above the clouds in this role. Thuy (Rick Fountas) was strong of voice but his cartoonish and over the top stridency of evil incarnate was way out of balance of the naturalistic portrayals of the characters around him. Staging is choreography, especially under Leo's direction. The fluidity of the fall of Saigon scene was ballet unto itself. Hours must have been spent in rehearsal to not only keep the masses flowing but to create the frenetic energy of the moment. This may have been the impetus for Leo's program book comment, “I've learned patience.” The awe-inspiring highlight of the production was the opener of Act 2, “Bui Doi”. In Vietnamese it means 'the dust of life', the brand burned into the mixed race children spawned by American soldiers and Vietnamese women; those left behind. It's a horrific appellation but an incredible song. John (Dave Snyder) along with a men's chorus, OWNS that song. If there had been live action replay, I would have been there 4 more times. In a drama this tense, there must be comic release. Peter Briccotto and Adam McLean ? (oh, I get it) were hysterical as American sex tourists. Their costumes, by Linda Reilly, were right testimony, I still have a few memorabilia in my closet from the very plaid and brightly pallet-ed '70's. Jonny Carroll (Tam) the offspring of the two weeks between Chris and Kim, was deemed 'adorable' by not one but two Elizabeth's at my table. Now, back to the helicopter. Alberts pulls it off. It descends in the chaos of evacuation. His dramatic lighting (especially the spot lights searching the audience) give a strong sense of the abject fear in the hearts of the evacuees. During that time Chris screams out, “all I made a mess”, which to those who lived through this era, is a metaphor for the US involvement in Nam. Thru March 11. 302.475.23 NCT is staging their annual fund raiser on February 11. Call the box office for details.

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