Vista, Ca—–Every now and then it’s good to look back and reflect on the deeds and actions in which our country has been involved. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned tragedy to bring us to our senses, or not. Take for example Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and Claude-Michael Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s “Miss Saigon”.
Puccini wrote “Madama Butterfly” (“Miss Saigon” is based on that opera) in 1904. The story revolves around the arranged marriage between the American, U.S. Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and his geisha Cio-Cio-San, and ends in tragedy when Pinkerton and his ship leave the port of Japan and his Japanese ‘wife’ behind. He later returns to the States and marries an American woman.
Cio-Cio-San, who by now has a son, waits for Pinkerton because she believed him when he told her he would return for her. I’m sure I’m not spoiling anything for anyone when I tell you he had no intention of returning for her but when he finally does, she already knows he has married the American. In her mind, the only solution for her to save face and give her child a better life is for her to kill herself.
How and why we keep repeating our mistakes when it comes to our social behaviors is beyond me. Rather than taking the high ground instead of the lowest common denominator and acting like spoiled and entitled children when we are guests, occupy or are fighting in another country is still an unanswered question. But it happens over and over again which lends itself to yet another, more up to date version of “Butterfly”.
Fast forward to Vietnam 1975, (the war lasted from1955 to 1975) where once again American G.I.’s took the women of that country for their pleasure leaving behind thousands of ‘half breeds’ or ‘leftovers’; ‘children of the dust’ of Vietnamese mothers and U.S. soldiers. These children were left at orphanages or to fend for themselves and live in poverty and starvation in a country devastated by war. Neither story is about war, but the scars of war in “Miss Saigon” and a devil may care attitude in “Butterfly”
Claude- Michael Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s (“Les Miserables”) “Miss Saigon” is based on a photograph Schönberg saw in a magazine showing a Vietnamese mother leaving her child at a departure gate at Tan Son Nhat Air Base to board a plane to the US where her American father would provide a better life for her. It was to become ‘the ultimate sacrifice’ and the motivation that propelled this musical drama for Scönberg and Boublil along with Richard Maltby, Jr. who wrote the lyrics with Boublil.
“Miss Saigon” the musical (it comes close to being in the opera category) opened on Broadway in 1991and lasted nearly 10 years and now Moonlight’s selection of this particular show marks two anniversaries: this past April was the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and Moonlight Amphitheatre is celebrating its 30 birthday and what a celebration it deserves.
This production has several show stoppers including Jennifer Paz who plays Kim, the bargirl who becomes the love object of Chris (Douglas Carpenter) one of the Marines stationed in Vietnam (the action is actually moved to Saigon). Chris meets Kim at one of the local nightspots, The Dreamland club and Moulin Rouge where the call girls, under the tutelage of a guy named The Engineer (Johann Michael Camat) are pretty much up for sale for a night if the price is right. If The engineer sees a chance to exploit one of them for a trip out of Saigon to the States, he’s all over it.
Both Kim and Chris are reluctant at first to go off with one another but Chris’ Marine Buddy John, (Melvin Robert III very sound presence) pays The Engineer for a night and insists Chris get out of the bar and go with Kim.
While the love affair between Kim (who is 17 and alone after her family is wiped out) and Chris proves to be a passionate and sincere one at least by the standards under which they are living, war does strange things to relationships. They have only two weeks to know each other before Saigon will fall. What relations might normally take time to develop, become urgencies in times of duress where time is of the essence.
Timing, they say is everything. The time frame that got in the way of their plans to be together was the hurried evacuation of Saigon. Things were chaotic. Either Chris didn’t have time or his superiors wouldn’t give him the proper papers for Kim to leave with, but in the end, he left and she remained behind, again hopeful that he would come for her.
Once again, a lover and a child are left behind with the expectations that they will some day be reunited. As the famous or infamous helicopter blades rap overhead (Peter Hashagen) to take the remaining Americans and however many Vietnamese out, a chain link fence keeps the ‘others’ in.
Three years after the evacuation, and now under a Communist regime, Chris manages to get back to the country only to find Kim’s fate in the same hands as that of Cio-Cio- San.
Under the deft direction of Steve Glaudini, choreographed by Carlos Mendoza (Starlight’s artistic director) and strong vocal assists by Paz, Camat and Robert III, this is a very solid and moving production worthy of a trip to Vista. Moonlight Stage Productions just keep getting stronger each year.
Paz played this very same role a few years back when Starlight Musical Theatre mounted “Miss Saigon” as part of their summer season. She has also traveled with the National Tour of the show. Her performance is solid and convincing. With opera training under his belt, a formidable build, credible acting and handsome looks, Carpenter is a perfect choice as Chris. The chemistry between the two proved believable to me.
Camat, who has been a part of “Miss Saigon” since 1993 including the Original Canadian cast in Toronto, has the role nailed down perfectly. Between his jaunty walk and overconfident dose of self, he just about steals the show in “The American Dream” number as he caresses and makes love to a shiny 70’s Cadillac hoping his dream of coming to America will come true. This number alone is worth the price of the show.
Music from the pit under the baton of Kenneth Gammie (Charlie Reuter is Musical Director) and his fine orchestra is the best ever. While you won’t leave the theatre humming any of the songs (I’ve seen the show at least 3 times and barely remember any of them) you will notice some similarities from Les Miz and even “Madame Butterfly”.
With Moonlight’s attention to detail and in keeping true to the images of a country torn apart from years of war, warts and all,” Miss Saigon” would get a PG rating for mature audiences from this reviewer.
Special mention must be made of Ace Young who plays Tam the three-year-old love child of Chris and Kim. His acting debut in this show is a sure shoo in for greater thing to come.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Sept. 8th -25th
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Production Type: Musical (Pop Opera)
Where: 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista, Ca 92084
Ticket Prices: $22.00-$45.00
Venue: Moonlight Amphitheatre