The Column Best in DFW Theater 2016

 

 

 

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MISS SAIGON MISS SAIGON
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil
Adapted from the original French lyrics by Alain Boublil
Additional material by Richard Maltby, Jr.
Orchestrations by William D. Brohn

Casa Manana

Direction and Choreography by Tim Bennett
Music Direction by Edward G. Robinson
Associate Music Direction by Andre Cerullo
Technical Direction by Michael Martineau
Production Stage Management by Jamie Rog
Scenic Design by Katie Dill
Lighting Design by Samuel Rushen
Sound Design by Jonathan Parke
Projection Design by Chris Norville
Costume Design by Tammy Spencer
Hair and Make-up Design by Patricia Delsordo


CAST (In order of appearance.)

Daniel Rowan as Chris
Jennifer Paz as Kim
Joseph Anthony Foronda as The Engineer
Kent Overshown as John
Heather Botts as Ellen
Marc Delacruz as Thuy
Dorcas Leung as Gigi
Amanda Jarufe as Yvette
Adrienne Tang as Mimi
Olvia De Guzman Emile as Yvonne
Parker Weathersbee as Tam
Brendan Cyrus as Assistant Commissar
Christopher J. Deaton as Captain Schultz

Ensemble
Brendan Cyrus, Christopher J. Deaton, Anthony Fortino,
Roel Garza, Lamar Jefferson, Oscar Seung, Brandon Wilhelm


MUSICIANS

Edward G. Robinson, Conductor
Randy Lee, Reed 1
Justin Vance, Reed 2
Larry Spencer, Brass 1
Wes Woodrow, Brass 2
Ann Rebecca Rathbun, Violin
Kyp Green, Bass
Andre Cerullo, Keyboard 1
Brent Sawyer, Keyboard 2
Larry Mi

Photo by Samuel Rushen

MISS SAIGONMISS SAIGON






Reviewed Performance 8/10/2013

Reviewed by Richard Blake, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Casa Mañana’s production of Miss Saigon features a breathtaking array of performers that command the stage even without the big special effects of previously known versions of the show.

Miss Saigon premiered in the West End at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on September 20, 1989 and closed after an astounding 4,264 performances. In December 1994 the London production became the Theatre Royal's (Drury Lane) longest running musical, eclipsing the record set by My Fair Lady. The original Kim was played by Lea Salonga, who became famous because of this role and won the Laurence Olivier Award and Tony Award. The original Engineer was portrayed by Jonathan Pryce who also won a Tony Award for the role.

The musical débuted on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre on April 11, 1991 and closed on January 28, 2001 after 4,092 performances. As of January 2013, Miss Saigon is still the 11th longest-running Broadway musical in musical theatre history.

Since its opening in London, Miss Saigon has been produced in many cities around the world including Stuttgart and Toronto, where new theatres were actually designed and built specifically to house the show. Another startling fact about the show - in the small island community of Bømlo, Norway, with only around eleven thousand inhabitants, the show was set up in the outdoor amphitheater by the local musical fellowship and only ran from August 5-16, 2009. However, the local musical fellowship brought in an ACTUAL Bell Helicopter for the show. According to the Miss Saigon Official Site, the musical has been performed by twenty-seven companies in twenty-five countries and 246 cities, and it has been translated into twelve different languages.

With all its history and unique production standards, Miss Saigon falls into the category of musicals called “Iconic”. Dictionary.com lists the adjective (for Art) as meaning “Executed according to a convention or tradition having a fixed conventional style. Very famous or popular, especially being considered to represent particular opinions or a particular time.” When you approach producing such a musical in this category there is an “artistic bar” that is set very high and your patrons will expect certain elements to exist when they see it.

The original producer of the show, Cameron Mackintosh, has gone on record saying of the first U.S. tour of the show, which began in Chicago, IL in 1992, "Corners haven't been cut. They've been added. There are only a dozen theaters in America where we can do this.” In 2003, a brand new production was developed again by Cameron Mackintosh on a smaller scale so that the show could be accommodated in smaller theatres. That touring version, of which the current regional production licensing follows, started in July 2004 and ended in June 2006.

Casa Mañana’s staging of this “iconic” musical does not meet up to what most theatre patrons, and definitely fans, of the show would expect. Let me state, however, some technical aspects of the show are a bit disappointing, not in any way the extraordinary talent that is assembled to perform it for you. It’s quite the opposite; the primary reason the production is successful is due to the talent and expertly guided orchestra that leave you in awe at the end of the evening.

Casa Mañana (translated means “The House of Tomorrow”) is probably one of the most unique performance spaces in the world, and is impressive in that aspect. Its original design in 1936 was as a circular, outdoor amphitheater that seated 4,000 people, featuring a rotating stage surrounded by a moat with fountains creating “water curtains” for the stage and even housed a restaurant. In 1958, Casa Mañana Theatre was established and the venue was renovated to a fully-enclosed, air-conditioned, aluminum-domed theatre that seated 1805 patrons. More recently, the interior of the theatre was basically cut in half to turn the theatre-in-the-round into more of a traditional proscenium performance space.

When you enter the space you are presented with a very simple set design by Katie Dill. It features full height walls of what are basically folding, drawn-up roman shades in white. The left and right stage is angled a bit with the same shades and large openings for exits. The shades do open for some reveals during the show and are bathed in colored lighting and used for projections; however, the overall visual presentation isn’t very exciting. There are some interesting moving set pieces that are brought on at various points of the performance. The multiple “dance boxes” in the Bangkok Moulin Rouge Nightclub in Act Two are exciting and add a very nice visual element to the choreography. Another nice touch is the use of two large moving fence pieces for the U.S. Embassy scene that depicts both sides of the fence very well. The predominant feature is a large, moving, two-level square platform. It is overused throughout the show and in some cases detracts from the scene itself. The constant rotating and moving across the stage is very distracting and simply doesn’t do much for most scenes. It does work very well though for the intimate bedroom and hotel scenes.

Michael Martineau, as Technical Director, had the monumental task of recreating some of the most difficult effects presented onstage. First and foremost, there is the helicopter scene at the U.S. Embassy. While I can appreciate the restraints of the space and value the attempt, it didn’t present well. A small section of the lighting grid is lowered, with two high intensity beams wobbling a bit to simulate a landing helicopter, pointing into the audience. While the suspension of reality comes close, the lights only lower a few feet, keeping them at least ten feet above the actors who then run to board the helicopter. Lowering the lights and/or even showing the skids of the landing helicopter would have made the scene much more effective and lent it to what people expect from this “iconic” scene. Many of the other technical aspects of the show go well, however, and assist in telling the story. Now, this show is not all about the helicopter, it is truly much deeper than that… but the attempt is not the best choice.

Lighting Designer Samuel Rushen uses a myriad of computer-controlled, rotating lighting supplemented with standard fixed instrumentation. Countless combinations of deep, saturated colors, blends and scenic fades are used several times and in most cases bring a nice highlight to the scene. There are some areas where actors’ faces are darkened at points, but overall the design itself is impressive. Some extraordinary template uses paired with the right amount of theatrical haze also add some splendid visual elements to the show. However, the evening I viewed the show, the follow spots were very distracting, never seeming to stay on their focus, and in some cases even leaving a primary performer singing in the dark, which is an operator issue and obviously not in the control of the designer.

Jonathan Parke’s sound design in this show is probably the most polished and truly exciting element of this production’s technical aspect. Simple environmental outdoor sounds and practical effects are expertly crafted and enhance every scene they are in. The sound effects of the helicopter at the top of the show literally move around the performance space and the iconic (yes in this case it is appropriate) sound effect of the helicopter landing at the U.S. Embassy scene literally shakes the theatre! The effect makes you hear AND feel as if there is an actual helicopter about to land….creating a spectacular moment and great achievement in sound design for Mr. Parke.

Costume design by Tammy Spencer is generally well done and represents each of the many characters throughout the timeline. She captures many exciting elements such as the tattered soiled clothing of the captors and down-trodden Vietnamese, at the same time bringing visual splendor to the nightclub scenes. A few costumes seem to be ill-fitted, however. Chris’ opening sequences in U.S. military fatigues look too large for him, primarily his jacket, forcing the actor to constantly fidget with it. In addition, some of Kim’s shirts seemed too large for the actress. However, the period perfect dresses Kim and her friends wear in the “wedding” scene are simply stunning and deserve mention.

Chris Norville’s projections in the show are another splendid technical element. He uses three projectors and obviously some ingenious software to create wonderful effects for some of the most powerful and emotionally-charged scenes in the musical. For example, at the top of Act Two for the song “Bui-Doi”, his projections of the terrible environment these lost children are exposed to are simply spectacular! He takes a small projection far upstage and it slowly expands and grows in size with the swells of the song as it’s performed, eventually filling the entire stage with perfect timing and contextual excellence. It is a shame, however, the lighting is washing the walls the projections are on as it truly takes away the visual importance of the video and makes them somewhat difficult to see. In any case, this young man (a recent local Ft. Worth HIGH SCHOOL graduate by the way) has a long, very exciting and successful career in front of him on many professional stages….I’m confidant of that. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that this fall he will be attending Carnegie Mellon University studying Lighting Design and Applied Physics!

Direction and choreography by Tim Bennett are a mix of excellence and a few weak staging moments. First, choreography throughout the show is spectacular and without reproach or error. Every moment of dance is strongly and beautifully presented. The nightclub scenes are spectacular and stunning, deserving of high recognition. Even the smaller choreographed movement in some scenes is tight and perfectly aligned with the scene being played out. Generally, the staging of scenes in the show is very well done yet some draw attention to the wrong focus of the scene. Mr. Bennett creates some simply beautiful intimate scenes between Chris and Kim and in the “Telephone Song” scene, staging is exquisite. A few other scenes have awkward movement and are a bit distracting. Overall, however, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses and the story is presented well throughout the evening.

Edward G. Robinson’s musical direction and conducting of the orchestra is extraordinary, and next to the talent he’s working with in the pit and onstage, the saving grace of the production! He conducts his musicians with perfection and brings the powerful score to life without flaw or incident. Never once does he allow the orchestra to overpower the performers, but follows them with great precision. The talent he has assembled in his musicians is also top notch. I do not believe I heard ONE wrong note all night, and with this difficult score that is a feat of greatness by Mr. Robinson and his musicians! His music direction of the cast cannot be praised highly enough. He has a highly talented group of singers and guides them very well. There are some moments he has created with his singers that ring in the theatre like nothing I have ever experienced. He has taken the talent given in the performers and guided them to pure magnificent vocal heights.

Every performer in this production can be described in one word: MAGNIFICENT!!

At any moment, in any scene throughout the production, nothing less than vocal perfection is sung from the stage. The reason I include the definition of “iconic” isn’t just to back up my opinions of some of the production qualities but to also say this entire cast lives UP TO this show’s history and expectation.

Jennifer Paz as Kim acts wonderfully and sings simply beautifully. Yes, folks, there is a reason why her talent in this role simply shines. Ms. Paz originated the role of Kim in the extremely successful first national Broadway tour that began in Chicago, and she brings nothing less than that professional persona to this production. She takes the role from its beginnings, as a scared young woman thrust into scenarios the society and times force her into, to a powerful, strong woman defying any and all who challenge her about her love and place in life. Her heartfelt love and fight to the death in protection of her child is felt every moment and literally will bring tears to your eyes when she sings about that love. She is nothing less than stellar in this role and not to be missed.

The role of Chris is magnificently played by Ft. Worth native and Off-Broadway star Daniel Rowan. He deftly takes you on a myriad of emotions with his portrayal and holds you in the palm of his hand throughout the musical. When he sings you are lifted to great heights with his vocal perfection. He carries his emotion through his songs with true, effortless talent and never waivers from the scene’s intensity. The love he portrays for Kim is stunningly real, only followed by his heartbreaking dilemma of loving his wife later in the show just as much. This is the perfect merging of talent and casting I’ve seen in a long time.

Joseph Anthony Foronda as the Engineer is another spectacular performance. He is another star of both national tours of Miss Saigon and it’s truly evident as to why! The energy required of this role is expertly handled and never falters. From the over-the-top creator of entertainment to the almost immoral, self-centered man worried about his own well-being, Mr. Foronda covers them all with his wonderful talent. His acting is only topped by perfect vocals. When he sings you are always entertained and impressed. He is another example of excellent casting in this show.

John, played by Kent Overshown, performs this role like I have never seen before. His acting ability is simply remarkable and always follows the storyline. He commands the stage at moments that will leave you in awe, and vocally there’s no denying this man’s talent! The opening of Act Two, with the song “Bui-Doi”, is taken to heights beyond the original production I saw years ago in New York. Mr. Overshown’s vocals in this number soar in the theatre and leave you with chills at the end of the song. I actually heard gasps in the audience when he finished and the thunderous round of applause he received for it were very truly deserved.

Heather Botts as Ellen is just another in the line of tremendous talent assembled on the stage. Her character sometimes doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in the musical even though she is pivotal to the story. Ms. Botts’ vocals are simply gorgeous, and in the duets with Kim, she will bring tears to your eyes. Her emotions are raw and conflicted and you are impressed with her talent and portrayal of this character.
As I mentioned earlier, there is not one performer on the stage that isn’t magnificent, and every single one of them deserved the applause and standing ovation they received at the end of the show. I MUST, however, bring specific attention to one more “little” performer….

Parker Weathersbee as Tam, the young child of Kim and Chris, impresses me to no end. This character has no lines and sometimes gets lost in the show as basically a prop. Not this FOUR-YEAR-OLD performer, not at all …. this wonderful little man is an ACTOR! I watched him respond in fear to some of the violence happening around him, clutching his mother with a look of terror on his face and then playfully color on the stage as a four-year-old would. I believe even at his young age, he somehow understands the story and responds to it. THIS boy is going to be a star someday, mark my words!

Miss Saigon’s story is deep and heartbreaking and the music is stunningly orchestrated. There may not be the technical showcasing of the original in Casa Mañana’s presentation but the talent assembled to present it to you makes that aspect pale in comparison, leaving you with an evening of live musical theatre you won’t soon forget.




MISS SAIGON

Casa Mañana
3101 W Lancaster Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76107

LIMITED ENGAGEMENT through August 18th

Performances are Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday August 17th, Sunday August 18th matinees at 2:00 pm.

Ticket prices range from $37.00 - $72.00 with a 20% discount for groups of 10 or more.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.casamanana.org or call the box office at 817-332-2272, Monday-Friday, 10:00 a