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Book by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil
Music By Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics By Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Directed by Mark E. Schuster
May 4 to 20, 2012
Photos By Carroll Studios Of Photography
An Interview with the King Family
By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic
May 10, 2012
WAUKESHA - It is rare for a community theater to tackle a musical as complex as "Miss Saigon," which is a modern version of Puccini’s "Madame Butterfly," set during the Vietnam War.
I must admit that I had my reservations when I saw it on the Waukesha Civic Theatre’s offerings. However, after viewing the amazing production the WCT mounted, my doubts quickly dissipated.
A.J. Simon’s realistic, stylized set design is as functional as it is splendid. The leading vocalists were very strong. Sharon Sohner’s vibrant costume designs and Lisa Moberly’s well-executed choreography all serve the beautiful music and poignant story written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. It is an experience not soon to be forgotten.
Karissa Lade, the leading lady, is extraordinary in her role as Kim. Her voice is melodic and pure, and her emotions convincing. Chris, her marine lover, is a tad pitchy in some of his solos but right in tune with her in their duets.
Phil Stepanski conveyed the beauty of love and the horror of war with passion. Another voice to be reckoned with is that of Jonathon Bartos, whose solo "Bui-Doi" is powerfully delivered. Those pictures of abandoned children projected on a screen told their own pitiable story.
Credit must also be given to Even Huang as Thuy. He exuded power, frustration and pain in his role as the rejected suitor. He learned that fear cannot force love.
Rob King as Engineer has a flair for comedy. His rendition of "The American Dream" is a standout. He is probably the most complex character in the show, and King captures those dimensions. Angela Lombardi as Chris’ wife, Ellen, evoked our sympathy and helped highlight the depth of her husband’s conflicted situation.
The ensemble numbers are not as strong as the solos, but the drama and pageantry of the big numbers compensated for some harmonic deficiencies. The most beautiful songs included "The Movie in my Mind," where Kim and Gigi, played by Emily Ruzga, join voices; "Sun and Moon," movingly sung by Kim and Chris; and "I Still Believe," rendered by Kim and Ellen.
How many women and children are left stranded after a war when transient alliances are made, often in desperation, and promises are too frequently broken? We will never know the answer to that question, nor the one that Chris asks in his heart-wrenching cry, "Why, God, why?" His piercing scream as the play ends says it all.
We are moved. We are awed. This is a searing look at the devastation of war on a very personal level.
Kudos to director Mark E. Schuster and his crew and staff for reminding us again of both the strength and weakness of the human spirit in such a stirring format.
By By Willy Thorn
Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The Waukesha Civic Theatre has ambitiously set out to recreate the Broadway classic Miss Saigon—scene by scene, song for song. It's no small feat. Miss Saigon is one of Broadway's longest-running musicals ever—and for good reason. The epic Vietnam War period piece has complex characters, drama and depth in a perfectly woven plot with not one but two love triangles.
Waukesha Civic Theatre has spared no expense. Fantastic costumes designed by Sharon Sohner dot every scene. The set, designed and created by A.J. Simon, is a wonder unto itself—all steel girders, wood slat shards, bamboo and straw, chain link and netting. It is built to flex, adapt and adjust for a wide variety of scenes: brothels and offices, Bangkok streets and refugee camps, communist parades, even helicopter escapes and telephone conversations.
Recreating a classic on the scale of Miss Saigon is a tall task. More than 30 musical numbers comprise the two-and-a-half-hour show. But even with a young cast, director Mark E. Schuster stays the ambitious course, determined to sing each and every line.
As with the Vietnam War, some poor souls don't make it. But those that do, shine. Notably: Karissa Lade as Kim (Miss Saigon herself) and Evan Huang as Thuy (her betrothed love). The former has the voice to carry the heavy load. The latter brings the passion, intensity, fervor and fire to make it all real. Huang is one of but a handful of Asians in the cast. Ironically, though, Wisconsin is home to many Southeast Asians who relocated following the Vietnam War. Reaching a few miles east to grab a few Hmongs (and a black soldier or two?) would have gone a long way toward authenticating the effort.
Waukesha Civic Theatre's Miss Saigon continues through May 20. For ticket reservations, call 262-547-0708.
Ambitious musical captures the chaos of the Vietnam War
By Marilyn Jozwik - WaukeshaNOW Theater Critic
May 8, 2012
Hours before Saigon succumbed to the North Vietnamese Communists in 1975, American military helicopters rescued Vietnamese refugees from rooftops and transported them to safety.
The city was in chaos with thousands of people trying to flee. Those who didn't fit in the copters clung to the skids as they ascended, desperate to escape Communist brutality.
It is the hell that surrounds the eve of the fall of Saigon and the toll war had on the people of two nations that is at the heart of "Miss Saigon," which opened Friday at the Waukesha Civic Theatre.
The Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil musical (Richard Maltby Jr. worked on lyrics with Boublil in "Miss Saigon"), which premiered in London in 1985, followed the pair's first success, "Les Miserables."
In "Miss Saigon," Chris (Phil Stepanski), an American GI, and Kim (Karissa Lade), a Vietnamese teenager orphaned by the war and trying to make a living as a bar girl, meet at a sleazy nightclub in Saigon run by a French-Vietnamese "entrepreneur" called Engineer (Rob King).
Like many soldiers forced to fight in the unpopular war, Chris is trying to make sense of it until he meets Kim and falls in love the night before the Americans evacuate the U.S. Embassy. The two "marry" in a religious ceremony before they are separated by the fates of war.
After returning home, Chris tries unsuccessfully to contact Kim before he decides to move on and marries Ellen (Angela Lombardi). Three years after meeting Kim, he is contacted by an organization that attempts to find American fathers of children born to Vietnamese women during the war. Among these children, who are called bui-doi, is Tam who is being raised by Kim. She is hopeful that Chris will some day return to take them to America. Chris travels to Bangkok with Ellen where he finds Kim and Tam, played by an absolutely darling 3-year-old Lexi Hueschen, and a challenge greater than anything he faced as a GI.
The show is ambitious for community theater for many reasons but Waukesha Civic Theatre mostly hits its mark. It is like a figure skater attempting to hit the sport's most difficult maneuver, a quadruple jump, and nearly sticking the landing.
"Miss Saigon," based on Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly," is virtually all sung, creating quite a challenge for any group. Waukesha Civic overcame the obstacle of having to come up with an orchestra by using prerecorded music.
Another challenge is the mostly Asian characters. A versatile set also must work for a nightclub, bedrooms, the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy, the streets of Saigon, Bangkok and other locations.
Waukesha Civic Theatre was fortunate to get an outstanding group of principal actors who handled the huge volume of music beautifully. All were miked for clear, crisp sound, which is essential when it is only lyrics telling the story.
Lade as Kim was flawless in her execution, but could perhaps have played the role with more vulnerability. Stepanski as Chris handled the American GI role with great passion. Musically, however, he lost pitch somewhat when he ratcheted up the volume for the high notes. The two voices blended nicely in the emotionally-charged "Last Night of the World."
Almost ever-present was Rob King's Engineer, and he didn't disappoint. Engineer is hellbent on making money and getting to America, where he thinks his greediness and lack of scruples will fit right in. King oozes with self-satisfaction as he tells Engineer's story and plans to be a corrupt, rich American entrepreneur in "The American Dream."
Lombardi as Ellen did a lovely job with "Now That I've Seen Her," although her big blonde wig made her look like a caricature and didn't seem to fit the times. Jonathon Bartos as John, Chris's GI buddy, was solid and opened Act II with a heartfelt "Entr'acte Bui-Doi," a pictorial tribute to the children fathered by American GIs left behind in Vietnam.
Almost in a class by himself, was Evan Huang as Thuy, the villager betrothed to Kim before Kim's parents died and later becomes a commander in the Communist army. Huang displayed tremendous strength and conviction as Thuy confronted Kim with the promise and was truly frightening when Kim saw him in her nightmare.
The show, however, faltered in some of the ensemble numbers, in which the music often seemed to overwhelm the singers. This led to some garbled lyrics, especially in "The Morning of the Dragon." The scene takes place three years after the fall of Saigon to the Viet Cong and its lyrics are critical to understanding the story. It was opening night and the ensemble numbers are the last to come together, so they should improve with subsequent performances.
One nicely done ensemble scene was "The Movie in My Mind," in which Emily Ruzga as Gigi lead the bar girls as they wistfully imagine themselves in a better place.
The mostly non-Asian cast was able to convey the culture adequately through makeup and attire. Some of the actresses portraying the bar girls seemed somewhat uncomfortable in their scanty outfits and sexy poses; the comfort levels, however, should also get better with more audience exposure.
But truly remarkable was the versatile set, which worked well in all the settings - especially the dramatic helicopter rescue from the U.S. Embassy rooftop, which required expert timing and execution of lighting, sound and visuals for its successful presentation.
It was scenes like that, as well as the commitment of the cast and director Mark Schuster to excellence that made this show a most worthy rendition of "Miss Saigon," which gives insight into one of the most important eras in modern American history.
Eli has an infectious positive attitude and always gives 110%. He stepped into the role of vocal warm-up leader and worked tirelessly to keep the cast sounding their best. Eli volunteered to assist in selling raffle tickets during intermission on many occasions. Several of the members of the cast and crew noted that his maturity and dedication were exceptional. His love for the theatre and this show was ever present.