AISLE SAY San Francisco


Book and Lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr.
Directed by Jasen Jeffrey
Presented by Broadway By the Bay
Fox Theatre
2215 Broadway St., Redwood City / (650) 579-5565

Reviewed by Judy Richter

As originally staged in London in 1989 and eventually in San Francisco in 1998, "Miss Saigon" was a spectacle, complete with a helicopter.

Broadway By the Bay's production doesn't go that far, but it makes good use of projections by Steve Channon to simulate some effects on Kelly James Tighe's set.

Set in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) beginning in April 1975, "Miss Saigon" is an updated version of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." The names and details are different, but the basics are similar.

A weary Marine, Chris (Terence Sullivan), meets a 17-year-old virginal bar girl, Kim (Danielle Mendoza), and they fall in love. As Communist troops descend on the city, Chris and all other Americans must evacuate in a hurry, leaving Kim and other desperate Vietnamese people behind.

Three years later, Kim still believes Chris will return for her. Chris, after a year of trying to find her, decides to get on with his life and marries Ellen (Catherine Brady), whom he loves.

Chris's buddy, John (Aaron Grayson), then tells him that Kim has been found in Bangkok and that she has a son, Chris's son.

When Chris and Ellen go to Bangkok to see Kim and the boy, tragedy ensues, just as it does in the opera.

Similar to an opera, much of the dialogue is sung. Hence, clear diction is imperative, but it sometimes falls short in this production.

The show tends to sag in places, in part due to direction by Jasen Jeffrey and in part due to the music and book by Claude-Michel Schönberg with lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr., the same team that created "Les Miserables."

The cast is generally strong with good singing by the principals: Sullivan, Mendoza, Brady and Grayson. The other major character is The Engineer, a wheeler-dealer with no scruples. Anthony Rodriguez III makes him thoroughly sleazy.

The large supporting cast sings and dances well (choreography by Nicole Helfer). Musical director Sean Kana leads the excellent orchestra from the keyboard.

Lighting is by Michael Oesch with sound (sometimes distorted near the front of the large theater) is by Jon Hayward, and costumes by are Leandra Watson.

Despite the slow spots, the show is entertaining and occasionally moving.

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