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Review
"Miss Saigon"

By: Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr.
Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Featuring: Katherine Dela Cruz, Danny Gould, Brian Palac, Adrien Gleason, Paul Villareal, Lindsay Stark, Lyn Mehe'ula, Robin DiCello, Anne Yumi Kobori, April Lam, Breanna Manore, Amanda Le Nguyen, Jennifer Young, Adam Cotugno, Tony Gonzales, Joey McDaniel, Danny Martin, David Saber, Michael Saenz, Andrew Kracht, Edmond Kwong, Joey Montes, Gwynn Lawrence Villegas, Cole Baker, Mia Lee
Directed by: Patrick Klein
When: April 26 through May 12, 2013
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California
Tickets:$23-$32; call 650-329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org
Miss Saigon
Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players
The ensemble performs "The Heat is On in Saigon" in the Palo Alto Players production of "Miss Saigon," on stage at the Lucie Stern Theatre April 26 through May 12, 2013.
A rough take-off
for 'Miss Saigon'
Palo Alto Players still have some tinkering
to do with this ambitious musical
April 28, 2013

There was enough good stuff to really like in the not-ready-for-prime-time opening of "Miss Saigon" at Palo Alto Players to almost make up for the things that went sour.

Let's start with the sweet stuff.

Miss Saigon
Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players
Danny Gould as Chris, left, and Katherine Dela Cruz as Kim in the Palo Alto Players production of "Miss Saigon," on stage at the Lucie Stern Theatre April 26 through May 12, 2013.

Katherine Dela Cruz is excellent as Kim, the virginal Vietnamese farm girl who has to go to work as a bargirl in a sleazy club after her family is killed. She has a very good voice with plenty of power, and is a very expressive actress. She's very attractive, and it's easy to see why an American Marine with heart and scruples would fall in love with her. Her singing of "Sun and Moon" is beautiful.

Adrien Gleason is excellent as John. Best male voice on the stage, and his delivery of "Bui-Doi" to open the second act is beautiful and moving.

Danny Gould as Chris is probably also a good singer, when he could be heard. He's certainly a good-looking fellow and a good actor.

Brian Palac was excellent as Engineer, with a powerful, fine voice and a real gift for comedy.

Lindsay Stark as Ellen, Chris' American wife, didn't knock me over with her acting, but her singing is excellent. Paul Villareal was strong and scary as Thuy, the NVA officer and eventual ghost.

It's that hearing Gould sing thing that was the first big problem with this production. Claude-Michel Schönberg's score does a lot of matching the vocal melody line with a melody line from the orchestra, and the sound mix, especially during the first act, was so bad that it was almost impossible to hear anything Gould was singing well enough to understand the lyrics.

The meaning of the show had to be carried by acting, so it was good that the cast, overall, delivered.

There were also several instances of disfunctional microphones, or ones that dropped out occasionally.

The sound mix is one of those things we really hope is squared away by opening night. We hope it gets better for the rest of this show's run. It was somewhat improved for the second act, so we can probably guess it will get better.

The male ensemble was excellent, especially in the singing. The female ensemble had some trouble. In the opening tunes, they sounded like screechers, not singers, although, again, I suspect that may have had something to do with the sound mix.

People on stage don't actually hear the tunes the way the audience does. They have their own sound monitors, and if something goes wrong with that system (and my guess is that it did), it's almost impossible to actually hear the band and the other singers. I know that seems unlikely to a non-performer, but trust me, I've been there.

And the ensemble women sounded good enough later to make me think that the screeching of the opening tunes was probably just a mistake.

The other big problem with this show was part of the stage blocking, using Kuo-Hao Lo's problematical set.

Some of it worked well enough -- the embassy gates for "Kim's Nightmare (The Fall of Saigon, April 1975)" were simple yet impressive and worked well. The clunker was the roll-in bit of stage used for Kim's bedroom, which never came far enough onstage, leaving a huge area at stage right where not much happened. In the meantime, for those sitting to the right of the auditorium, much of what happened on Kim's bed was simply not visible. The fate of the child toward the end of the show? Not visible.

There is a "helicopter," that looks like a framework of lath, and a Cadillac front that was fun.

Miss Saigon
Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players
Brian Palac as Engineer, left, and Mia Lee as Tam in the Palo Alto Players production of "Miss Saigon," on stage at the Lucie Stern Theatre April 26 through May 12, 2013.

I liked Jennifer Gorgulho's choreography quite a bit, from the opening in the rice paddy, where Kim's family is wiped out, all the way through to the "The American Dream," which is hilarious and delightful.

"Miss Saigon," of course, is based on Giacomo Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly," but moved up to Vietnam in the 1970s instead of 1904 Japan, with American Marines instead of naval officers. Some of the music from Schönberg for "Saigon" is quite good, but nothing in it matches "Ancora un passo" from Puccini's "Butterfly," but what does?

"Miss Saigon" paints most of the Marines as pigs, but also is quite moving in its story of the fine men who did (and do) what they can for the children they left behind when the U.S. left Vietnam in 1975.

Despite all the problems, hats off to Palo Alto Players for staging this ambitious musical. It's no small accomplishment. I hope they fix the dents and patch the tires on this one.



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