Dilettante: ‘Miss Saigon’ at Ogunquit Playhouse

Posted Wednesday, September 28, 2011 in Culture

Dilettante: ‘Miss Saigon’ at Ogunquit Playhouse

Jennifer Paz and Gregg Goodbrod in 'Miss Saigon'.

by Jan Brennan

OGUNQUIT – Fall is here, the kids are back in school; after a summer of fun, it’s time to settle down and get serious. The Ogunquit Playhouse certainly has, mounting an ambitious production of the heart-wrenching and thought-provoking musical “Miss Saigon.”

Set in Vietnam over several years in the 1970s, the play follows the doomed love affair between a U.S. Marine and an orphaned Vietnamese girl, a newcomer to the nightclub scene. When the U.S. pulls out of Saigon on the eve of the city’s fall to the North Vietnamese, the
lovers are separated. The Marine, Chris, resumes normal life in America, but the ever-faithful Kim never gives up hope that someday he will return for her.  In Act II, he does, but don’t expect a happy ending.

Director Paul Dobie, who was in the original Broadway cast of “Miss Saigon” in the 1990s and has since done directing work on both Broadway and national tours, has created a show for Ogunquit that is visually and musically stunning. The famous helicopter flies over the stage in the rooftop evacuation scene, but it plays second fiddle to the gorgeous voices of an all-star cast.

Playing the part of Kim, the role she had in the first national tour of the show, is Jennifer Paz. She is utterly perfect, all innocence and sweetness in Act I and steely resolve in Act II. Paz is almost always on stage, and her strong, beautiful voice never tires. Her grace and wide-eyed optimism make it easy to see why her soldier-boy would be instantly smitten.

Her lover, Chris, is played by Gregg Goodbrod, who also played the same role at Maine State Music Theater in Brunswick. With his chiseled jaw, sandy hair and dimples, he looks every bit the quintessential American soldier. And when he sings, he is every bit the Broadway veteran. His powerful voice and no-holds-barred acting had the audience bowled over.

Caught up in the anguish of the lost lovers is Amanda Rose as Ellen and Nik Walker as John. Their singing is just as good as the lead actors’ – a vital contribution, as this play is like an opera in that there is very little spoken dialogue.  It’s all music (the show is a modern take on the Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly”) and the pit musicians, led by Ken Clifton, give the lush score its due. 

Also outstanding is Raul Aranas as the Engineer. A member of the London, Broadway and touring casts of “Miss Saigon,” he goes from slimy in the first act to sympathetic in the second without letting the audience see just how easily he can manipulate us. His
show-stopping song-and-dance “The American Dream” provides some welcome levity in this otherwise gut-wrenching show.

Raul Aranas (left) as the Engineer with the cast of Miss Saigon

The Engineer’s bevy of prostitutes serve as eye candy, and their raunchy dancing, choreographed by Robert Tatad, appropriately sets the scene as well as lightens the show’s dark mood.

Tatad’s choreography was especially impressive in two other scenes: Act II’s opening number by the male ensemble,  in which soldiers march and perform ribbon-dances with the same flawless precision that we saw in the Beijing Olympic ceremonies, instilling awe at Eastern discipline; and the rooftop evacuation scene, which managed to convey the chaos of that desperate day while having refugees fall off the chain-link fence in slow motion. Both scenes were beautiful and scary at the same time, and flawlessly performed by the large cast of singer/dancers.

Equally flawless was the performance of the child Tam. The role is shared by three local kids: Yamilah Saravong; Sarah Deherrera; and Zak Burgess. The program did not specify which child was performing in the show I saw (Sept. 22), but whoever it was could not have been more perfect: somber, never breaking character, and looking absolutely
adorable besides!

The only element that detracted from my enjoyment of the show was the sound level, which was set uncomfortably loud; ironically, mikes that loud make it hard to understand all the lyrics. But that is a small quibble in what is overall a fabulous production. From the opening
scene in which you hear the realistic sound of a helicopter and feel it shaking the floorboards to the final tearjerking moment, this show grabs you and won’t let go. It made me feel I was in Saigon; in fact, in every war since time immemorial; and I was every conflicted fighter
and heartbroken girlfriend and confused child that these messy and cruel and ultimately useless conflicts create. It’s a hard journey, but a necessary one. And at the Ogunquit Playhouse, it’s an impressive and beautiful one as well.

“Miss Saigon” runs through Oct. 23. For tickets call the Ogunquit Playhouse at (800) 982-2787 or go to www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.

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