Broadway in Boston’s “Miss Saigon” goes “above and beyond”


Photo courtesy Matthew Murphy, Broadway in Boston

The Company of the North American Tour of “Miss Saigon” performs “Morning of the Dragon.”

Deanna Schwartz, deputy campus editor

How many musical productions can say they feature a real helicopter hovering over the stage? Broadway in Boston’s “Miss Saigon” can. The thrilling staging, playing at Citizens Bank Opera House through June 30, is part of the show’s national tour, stemming from runs in London and on Broadway. 

Set during the Vietnam War, “Miss Saigon” tells the story of a young Vietnamese girl named Kim who is forced to work as a prostitute at a club owned by a man called The Engineer. She falls in love with an American soldier named Chris, and they make plans for a life together. When the war escalates and Chris is forced to return abruptly to America, Kim is heartbroken. Three years later, Chris has nearly forgotten about Kim and has married an American woman — all while Kim is raising his son and praying for his return. The plot is loosely based on the opera “Madame Butterfly.”

The musical was written by the same duo that wrote “Les Miserables,” Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. Similar to “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon” is deeply tragic from start to finish but has moments of comedy and romance, putting the audience through a multitude of emotions. Also similar to “Les Miserables” is the music, which is a marvel of lyricism and motifs. 

“Miss Saigon” has a controversial history — people have criticized the show in the past for offensive lyrics, orientalism and a white savior narrative. The original West End and Broadway productions faced criticism for whitewashing Asian characters and having white actors wear eye makeup and bronzer to appear more Asian. In this production, all of the Asian characters are played by actors of Asian descent. 

“Miss Saigon” plays around with its timeline, jumping back and forth between the end of the war in 1975 and the Communist regime in 1978. The plot moved along slowly in the beginning of Act One but picked up considerably when the timeline jumped three years.

The production utilized many sensory elements, making the audience smell smoke in the air and feel the wind coming from an actual helicopter. There is also a real car that characters drive.

The cast was phenomenal across the board, with outstanding vocals, acting and dancing. Emily Bautista played Kim with grace and finesse, her voice reminiscent of Lea Salonga’s in the original production. Red Concepcion stood out among the rest for the comedy and subtle darkness he brought to the role of The Engineer. The character is sometimes the villain, sometimes the comic relief and always the scene-stealer.

While the small, intimate scenes were excellent, the most memorable were the large dance numbers. One number that completely captured the audience’s attention was “The Morning of the Dragon,” a symbolism-ridden, elaborate sequence illustrating the political climate of Ho Chi Minh City in 1978. The 11 o’clock number “The American Dream” brought the house down and was a perfect showcase for Concepcion. 

It’s not difficult to put on a stellar production of “Miss Saigon.” With a book so incredible and a score so moving, the show practically stages itself. Broadway in Boston’s production went above and beyond, making it worth every tear shed.