×

Regional Legit Review: ‘Miss Saigon’

Brit megamusical gets refreshingly intimate treatment at D.C. area's Signature Theater

With:

Diana Huey, Gannon O'Brien, Thom Sesma, Erin Driscoll, Chris Sizemore, Christopher Mueller, Cheryl Daro, Stephen Gregory Smith, James Gardiner, Vincent Kempski, Nicholas Yenson, Kevin Kulp, Ryan Sellers, Katie Mariko Murray, Tamara Young, Eunice Bae.

Who needs a helicopter anyway? In an inventive and satisfying remount of the tuner “Miss Saigon” for its 275-seat main stage, Arlington, Va.’s, Signature Theater turns the theatrical spectacle into an intimate love story wedged inside the chaos of the Vietnam War. Benefiting from updated orchestrations and a touching new song, the production enjoys the personal blessings of producer Cameron Macintosh as a potential door-opener to other modestly budgeted licenses of the show. 

In this energetic production, the iconic “helicopter scene” depicting the 1975 fall of Saigon becomes a suspenseful and chair-rattling experience for auds fully enveloped within the mob seeking to escape the U.S. embassy that day. It portrays loved ones railing in frustration against an impenetrable iron fence amid a theatrical assault of strobe lights, ominous music and riotous sound. A rope suddenly drops from the darkness above for soldiers to climb aboard an unseen chopper that “departs” noisily over the theater.

That’s the kind of re-think given “Saigon” by Signature a.d. Eric Schaeffer in a fresh production that features a 19-member cast and 16-piece orchestra. The revival comes five years after Schaeffer and company had a hit with a scaled-back revival of “Les Miserables” that similarly turned a blockbuster spectacle into a cozy experience.

Popular on Variety

Not that Signature is doing “Saigon” on the cheap. The production includes a broad array of moving parts and special-effect generators needed to transform the environmental set into seedy locales of Saigon and Bangkok.

Designer Adam Koch has outfitted Signature’s Max Theater inside and out in war-zone garb that includes wings and fuselages of “fallen” aircraft, radio towers and other period relics. An aircraft wing is employed as a principal ramp for actors to enter and exit the stage. Surrounded by the audience on three sides, the busy space is enshrouded in parachutes as patrons arrive.

The production also incorporates inviting new orchestrations for a small orchestra (or at least one smaller than the Broadway original) by William D. Brohn, inserting a contemporary feel to the 23-year-old musical. Karma Camp’s choreography also helps keep the action flowing.

The first-rate cast is led by Diana Huey as the “Madame Butterfly”-inspired character Kim. A relative unknown, the Japan-born, Seattle-based actress impresses with her soaring soprano and convincing innocence. The role of the conflicted U.S. Marine Chris is in capable hands with tenor Gannon O’Brien, while Thom Sesma drips with insincerity as the suave hustler known as the Engineer, reprising a role he played during the show’s second national tour in the mid-1990s.

Signature regular Erin Driscoll is equally effective as Act Two’s earnest young bride struggling with her marriage’s sudden complications. She delivers with “Maybe,” a moving new song written by the team of Claude-Michel Schonberg, Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil about her desire to persevere. (The song has replaced “Now That I’ve Seen Her” since the new tune’s 2011 bow in a Netherlands staging.)

The eight-week run of this “Miss Saigon” wraps in October, clearing the way for an upcoming West End revival slated for spring 2014.

Regional Legit Review: 'Miss Saigon'

Signature Max Theater, Arlington, Va.; 275 seats; $98 top. Opened, reviewed Sept. 1, 2013. Running time: TWO HOURS, 25 MIN.  

Production:

A Signature Theater production of a musical in two acts by Claude-Michel Schonberg (music), with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., and Alain Boublil, adapted from the original French lyrics by Boublil. 

Creative:

Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Choreography, Karma Camp. Sets, Adam Koch; costumes, Frank Labovitz; lighting, Chris Lee; sound, Matt Rowe; orchestrations, William D. Brohn; musical direction, Gabriel Mangiante.

Cast:

Diana Huey, Gannon O'Brien, Thom Sesma, Erin Driscoll, Chris Sizemore, Christopher Mueller, Cheryl Daro, Stephen Gregory Smith, James Gardiner, Vincent Kempski, Nicholas Yenson, Kevin Kulp, Ryan Sellers, Katie Mariko Murray, Tamara Young, Eunice Bae.

More Legit

  • Protesters demonstrate at the Broadway opening

    'West Side Story' Broadway Opening Night Sparks Protests

    Roughly 100 protestors gathered outside the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” on Thursday night, carrying placards and chanting in unison to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ramasar has got to go,” they cried while holding signs that read “Keep predators off the stage,” “Sexual predators shouldn’t get [...]

  • West Side Story review

    'West Side Story': Theater Review

    Whittled down to one hour and forty-five minutes, “West Side Story” – with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins — has grown exceedingly dark and mislaid some of its moving parts in the new Broadway revival from edgy Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. (Can [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Closing in March After Box Office Struggles

    “The Inheritance,” a sprawling and ambitious epic that grappled with the legacy of the AIDS epidemic, will close on March 15. The two-part play has struggled mightily at the box office despite receiving strong reviews. Last week, it grossed $345,984, or 52% of its capacity, a dispiriting number for a show that was reported to [...]

  • MCC theater presents 'Alice By Heart'

    Steven Sater on Adapting 'Alice by Heart' From a Musical to a Book

    When producers approached lyricist Steven Sater (“Spring Awakening”) to adapt Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into a musical, his initial reaction was to recoil. His initial thought was that the book didn’t have a beginning, middle and an ending. But Sater pulled it off with his production of “Alice By Heart.” After an off-Broadway [...]

  • The Lehman Trilogy review

    Sam Mendes' 'Lehman Trilogy' Kicks off Ahmanson's New Season

    Sam Mendes’ “The Lehman Trilogy,” which took London’s West End by storm will be part of the Ahmanson’s lineup for the 2020-21 season. It will be joined by Broadway hits “Hadestown” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Artistic director Michael Ritchie announced the season that will also feature four fan favorites and another production to be [...]

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content