A Broadway blockbuster, Miss Saigon, opened Sept. 7 at Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre for a one week run through Sept. 13 and brings the updated story and modern music to the story of the opera, Madame Butterfly.
Updates are nothing new to musical theater. The 1950s West Side Story updated Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to New York City and the battle between two rival gangs. Rent, another New York-based show, likewise updated Puccini’s famous La Boehme. Kiss Me Kate, kinda updated Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew by producing a show within a show that mirrored the Bard’s famous play.
According to a Starlight spokesman, “Miss Saigon, one of the most stunning theatrical spectacles of all time, will be produced by Starlight Theatre. In Miss Saigon, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is brought to the modern world.
In Miss Saigon, the rapid exodus of American servicemen created chaos with families left behind after the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. As a result, wartime relationships ripped timelessly apart and half-American children remained to face a world with no fathers and little money in a country that also shunned them, by regarding many of them as half Vietnamese and also half-enemies in some eyes. Miss Saigon tells the story of one such situation and a woman’s choices and motivations.
Miss Saigon is a love story about the relationship between an American GI and a young Vietnamese woman during the American occupation of Saigon during the Vietnam War. The Tony Award-winning musical was created by Claude Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, the visionaries behind Les Miserables, and features a series of sensational musical numbers including, “Why God Why?” and “The American Dream.” Miss Saigon remains the 11th longest-running Broadway musical in musical theatre history, a Starlight release said. Miss Saigon ran for years in London’s West End where it originated and played for almost two years before the Broadway debut.
“For Starlight’s production of Miss Saigon, we have assembled a stellar cast under the direction of internationally recognized artists that includes Director Fred Hanson, Music Director Kevin Stites and Choreographer Baayork Lee,” said Denton Yockey, President and Executive Producer of Starlight. “They are each established leaders in the musical theatre industry, and I cannot underscore enough what a thrill and a tremendous privilege it has been to have them in Kansas City rehearsing and preparing this production.”
Starlight Theatre is the lead producer of Miss Saigon. After opening in Kansas City, the co-production will travel to the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, the Fisher Theatre in Detroit and the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul. Miss Saigon ends Starlight’s 2013 Broadway Season of Blockbusters.
Monty Python’s Spamalot opened Starlight’s season with fun, games and laughs. Miss Saigon ends the season with powerful acting, singing, heart-wrenching situations and demonstrates how musical theater evolved from lighthearted musical comedy into musical theater where the depths of drama and tragedy find new audiences.
Miss Saigon contains adult language and adult themes of sex, desire, and tragedies of war. And with most tragedies love triangles complicate seemingly simple situations. Such is the case in Miss Saigon with Chris, a G.I.; Kim, his love in Vietnam and mother of his only son; and Ellen, his new American wife who helps him overcome war travesties and re-start his life.
That’s the situation of Miss Saigon, but that alone does not make the story. The backdrop of war complicates situations. Clashing cultures provide for another conflict to overcome. And a pimp, Engineer, and a well-intentioned American Embassy worker, John, serve as the catalyst that leads to the explosive story.
As Chris, Charley Brady brings the strongest male vocal performance to Starlight this season. Brady performs several solos and duets that allow his force and vocal skills to explode. Brady’s performance stands out as he navigates from tender to passionate, to tormented, to torn, to devastated as he works through Miss Saigon. Even though not the center of the story or on stage most of the time, his acting and voice keep all attention on him whenever he appears. Brady builds layer upon layer to his characterization and show a wide range of emotional passion.
As the lead male in Miss Saigon, The Engineer, masterfully portrayed by Orville Mendoza, brings the comic relief to the show. His slimy, sleazy characterization builds throughout the show from his first song, “The Heat Is on in Saigon,” through his big 11 o’clock show-stopper, “The American Dream.” The latter musical selection demonstrates why his character receives top billing in Miss Saigon. He serves as the catalyst. Never can he be seen as a protagonist The Engineer appears only to add mayhem and encourage evil with one focus in mind–his best interest. Mendoza shows his acting chops as he develops his character slowly and lays it full out in his final number. Even though an adequate singer, it’s Mendoza’s on stage presence that sells his character. His dancing is fun and Mendoza performs the character admirably.
As the title character in Miss Saigon Manna Nichols shows her vulnerability and strength as the Vietnamese love interest. From the beginning of her story, audiences understand her past. Nichols maintains the character’s innocence throughout, even though she does what she needs to do out of love–love for her husband and love for her son. As for her singing, Nichols’ solos and duets stand out. The “Solo Saxaphone” duet with Brady lingers on the mind. Nichols’ display of inner strength bring her characterization of Kim to life in the production.
On a local note, Kansas City native, Meggie Cansler plays Ellen the American wife of the displaced G.I. Cansler made her professional debut at Starlight Theatre in Annie at age 10. Cansler makes the role of Ellen that of the all-supporting wife. Yes, she questions her husband’s secreted past, but pushes beyond that to accept and display unconditional love. Her voice and performance build as the second act unfolds. Cansler’s duet with Nichols in act one allows both women to sing with passion and emotion from two different worlds with one focus–their love for the same man. Cansler character necessitates a delicate balance of love, heartbreak, uncertainty, and slight jealousy. Ellen must overcome all obstacles and Cansler evokes the unbridled love as the power to succeed. Her touching performance comes to fruition in the final scene. Listen as her voice navigates the complexities of the character.
Another actor worthy on note for his singing and acting skills in Miss Saigon is Nkrumah Gatling. He demonstrates a very strong stage presence in his limited on stage time and his vocal performance on his one solo leaves audiences wanting he see and hear more from him.
A Starlight spokesman said that the creative team for Miss Saigon includes: Director Fred Hanson who is based in New York and Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil, he has directed new production of Baby and Jekyll & Hyde. Hanson’s previous experience with Miss Saigon includes Associate Director to Nicholas Hytner on the original Broadway productions and directing his own versions for the St. Louis Muny, São Paulo and Tokyo (2004 & 2008), Starlight said.
Music Director Kevin Stites served as the Music Supervisor, Arranger and Music Director for the Broadway musical A Tale of Two Cities; the Music Supervisor and Incidental Music Composer for the Broadway musical and the national tour of The Color Purple; and the Music Director of the Broadway revival of Les Miserables, according to a Starlight press release.
Starlight’s Miss Saigon also lists Choreographer Baayork Lee who debuted on Broadway at the age of 4 as Princess Ying Yaawolak in the original production of The King and I in 1951. Lee was a member of the original 1975 Broadway cast of A Chorus Line, which won nine Tony Awards and the 1975 Pulitzer Prize. She has started her own production company, the National Asian Arts Project, in order to open theatre doors for people of Asian descent.
Starlight’s Miss Saigon includes a large cast: Charlie Brady, Katie Boren, Meggie Cansler, Andy Danh, Robyn DeGuzman, Rona Figueroa, Nkrumah Gatling, Dan Gleason, Chris Ignacio, Eric Anthony Johnson, Austin Ku, Jonny Hsu Lee, Glen Llanes, Garen McRoberts, Orville Mendoza, Shoba Narayanan, Manna Nichols, Rommel Pierre O’Choa, Alfie Parker Jr., David Raimo, Peter Romagna, Michiko Sasaki, Christopher Shin, Richard M. Steele, Viet Vo, Allen Lucky Weaver, Tyrick Wiltez Jones, Jessica Wu, Anna-Lee Wright, Minami Yusui, Arianna Yi, Sam Simahk, Yuki Ozeki and Daphne Valenta.
Other artists and staff for Starlight’s production of Miss Saigon include: Denton Yockey, Executive Producer; Kirk Bookman, Lighting Designer; Braxton Cornelius, Sound Designer; Mary Traylor; Costumer; Joanne Weaver, Wig Designer; Susan Kikuchi, Associate Choreographer; Robert Thurber, Production Stage Manager; Kent Andel, Production Manager; Caroline Lakin, Company Manager; and Randy Moreland, Head Carpenter.
Tickets to Miss Saigon are now on sale for $10 - $135. Tickets are available at kcstarlight.com, by calling 816-363-STAR (7827) or in person at Starlight Theatre, 4600 Starlight Road. Box Office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Discounted ticket prices for groups of 15 or more can be ordered by contacting Stacey Million, Starlight’s group sales manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-997-1137. All performances begin at 8 p.m.
Prior to the show, guests may dine in the VIP Club catered by Plaza Catering that includes hot custom designed buffet items, a salad selections, a veggie garden bar, desserts, and special children’s menu. Reservations may be made in advance; walk-ups are also welcome. The menu for Miss Saigon is posted at www.kcstarlight.com. Other dining options include concession stand favorites and pre-packaged salads and sandwiches on the Encore Deck.