By Sheri and Josh Flanders
Sheri and Josh are an interracial, married, Chicago-based comedy writing and performing duo and contributors to ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com. The following conversation was spawned by attending Broadway in Chicago’s production of “Miss Saigon.”
Josh: From a production standpoint, Miss Saigon is what big-time musicals are meant to be. Incredible singing, jaw-dropping choreography and dancing, gigantic, colorful set pieces that make the heart race, and all the pomp and circumstance one expects to see at the Cadillac Palace.
Sheri: The overall story of this 30-year-old tragic musical about the romance between an American soldier and a young woman set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War is more than a bit problematic. Told through the eyes of American Exceptionalism, it is unvarnished propaganda at its best, and racist at worst. I recommend Diep Tran’s article from American Theatre for further reading. “Miss Saigon” is one of those zombie productions that should be nearing the end of its shelf life, yet thanks to the amazing musical score and flashy dance numbers, will continue to be revived for another 20 years.
Josh: Ironically, the star of Miss Saigon is not really Kim (wonderfully portrayed by the mesmerizingly talented Emily Bautista), but The Engineer, played by Red Concepción.
Sheri: Red completely steals the show and is by far the most interesting character. His voice and presence command attention; his rendition of “American Dream” is a legitimate showstopper and a relevant commentary on capitalism.
Josh: At times, the story felt like “Romeo and Juliet” meets “Pretty Woman” meets “Titanic”….
Sheri: …meets “Apocalypse Now.” See here for a full synopsis.
Josh: Yeah, there’s a lot going on, and while it is truly an amazing visual and musical spectacle to experience, I did not really feel connected to any of the characters’ journeys.
Sheri: There is too much history in this musical for one show to legitimately bear. Without giving anything away, the content of the song “The Dust of Life” deserves a play of its own.
Josh: Agreed. Any one of the storylines, from the young Vietnamese women fleeing their cities to survive, to the young American soldiers grappling with the horrors of war, could have been explored in more depth.
Sheri: The virgin-whore dichotomy set up between Kim and the other women is an overused musical trope that quickly becomes squicky when one realizes that the stories of real Vietnamese women have been flattened and erased for laughs.
Josh: The men were there to rescue them and ultimately fulfill their own needs, and none fully grapple with their misdeeds. That said, Anthony Festa was a pleasure to watch as Chris, the young soldier who falls in love with Kim and is torn away from her at the end of the war. The choreography by Bob Avian is unbelievable and worth the ticket price alone, not to mention Laurence Connor’s fine direction and Matt Kinley’s explosive production design.
Sheri: So if you can separate the problematic from the extraordinary performances by a top-notch Broadway cast with exquisitely beautiful voices, then Miss Saigon is a fantastically enjoyable musical!
Broadway in Chicago presents “Miss Saigon” at the Cadillac Palace, 151 W Randolph Street, Chicago, through December 8. More information and tickets are here.