Review: ‘Road to Saigon’

Hopes of an insiders' tell-all about role, tuner or profession are quickly dashed in "Road to Saigon."

For their new revue, East/West Players have assembled a troupe of actresses who have portrayed “Kim” in professional “Miss Saigon” productions. Yet hopes of an insiders’ tell-all about role, tuner or profession are quickly dashed in “Road to Saigon,” assembled by helmer Jon Lawrence Rivera from what were evidently the blandest, most generic memories the Kims could dredge up. The evening is a pleasant enough (if overlong) cabaret showcase, but any connection to the Boubil-Schonberg-Maltby smash is tangential only.

Although all played the same part for years, the ladies demonstrate undeniable individuality: Jenni Selma is a classic Broadway belter with heart, Joan Almedilla a scorching jazz singer and Jennifer Paz an ideal tuner “second woman” in the Ado Annie vein. Each is handed material suitable to her style, with Almedilla particularly effective on Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.” All also take on some power ballads, the odd comedy song and a couple of numbers in Tagalog from their native Philippines.

Just be forewarned, they say almost nothing interesting or incisive about playing Kim: no comparisons of their approaches to the role, no juicy backstage dish. If any holds an opinion about the famous 1991 controversies (allegations of plot racism; Jonathan Pryce’s “yellowface” casting; the standoff with Equity), she keeps it to herself. All we learn is, it was a wonderful period in their lives, a great opportunity and everybody was swell.

Nathan Wang’s piano upstage left provides skillful accompaniment, though the Hwang Theater’s sound system makes easy listening a chore, with electronic chirps audible throughout on the night attended.

And whether it was Rivera or musical stager Kay Cole (neither bringing much pizzazz to the party) who decided the women should punctuate every single exit with a perky sidelong glance, the other should have suggested it was a bad idea.

Road to Saigon

David Henry Hwang Theater, Los Angeles; 240 seats; $50 top

Production

An East/West Players presentation of a show in one act, developed and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera. Musical director and arranger, Nathan Wang; musical staging, Kay Cole.

Creative

Sets and projections, John H. Binkley; costumes, Rachel Shachar; lighting, Jeremy Pivnick; sound, Bob Blackburn; stage manager, Jaclyn Kalkhurst. Opened May 19, 2010; reviewed May 20; runs through June 13. Running time: 90 MIN.

Cast

With: Joan Almedilla, Jennifer Paz, Jenni Selma.
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