MISS SAIGON SHOWS TIME DOES NOT HEAL ALL WOUNDS

Article By Luis Vazquez

I was a mere seven years of age when the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell in 1975 and was re-christened Ho Chi Ming City closing out a chapter that haunted America to the present day. It was dubbed in later years as “The Mistake.”

Through the re-birth of “Miss Saigon” on Stage after 25 years the memories were revisited and old wounds were reopened for those who were alive at that time. For the Milennials 40 years into the current climate where international wars bring fresh refugees in droves from new war zones, its useful as a basis of comparision to see what has or has not changed since those days.

Miss Saigon starts off like a cold shower. Shocking yet titillating at the same time. The opening scenes which introduce our lead actress Eva Noblezada is not for the faint of heart. She plays Kim, a 17-year old who is groped, partially stripped and bought and paid for and finishes the day in a bed with a sympathetic soldier where only clever lighting hid her nude topless frame. The curse of beauty in a war.

Eva Noblezada was actually 17 when she was named to the role when it first performed in London and the first thing you notice is that she has total command of the character that was first brought to the stage by the legendary Lea Salonga.

She made the role of Kim seem naturally hers as she convincingly made you feel her naivete as she buys into the dream of being the wife of a GI Chris (Alistair Brammer) that she falls for and living in the United States, a dream many Vietnamese women, seeing the carnage around them, shared here playing themselves in a game of chance that if they impress well enough, they will be shown a better life. This was well displayed by Rachelle Ann Go (Gigi), Anna- Lee Wright (Yvonne), Kimberly-Ann Truong (Mimi), Tiffany Toh (Fifi), Catherine Ricafort (Dominique) and Minami Yusui (Yvette) who felt threatened by Kim and tried to remove her as a threat protecting their domain and they entertained the U.S. Marines playing for a ticket to America.

Chris is one of these Marines who is confused but the purity Eva represents makes him want to become her savior, to protect the only thing worth being there. He even takes her to bed grudgingly. They even take part in a wedding ceremony but ultimately they end up getting split up when Saigon suddenly falls and in the madness they miss their rendevous and Kim remains behind with child which Chris was unaware of as he gets married back home. The song song that Engineer sings earlier “If You Want To Die In Bed” summarized Chris’ postwar experience well.

Chris is having nightmares every evening for the three years since leaving the war. His wife, Ellen (Katie Rose Clarke) has to comfort him every night from a haunted soul she doesn’t understand that calls a single name of one she does not know, Kim. An interesting scene was the duet of Ellen snd Kim singing “I Still Believe” in their respective parts of the world, one filled with hope, the other just hoping.

The show is extremely heavy on serious content. Fortunately Jon Jon Brione (Engineer) saves the day, with the standout performance of the evening, by bringing much needed wit and humor as the clever Engineer who runs the girls of this Saigon brothel but desires a visa to America. He works throughout the show hustling his way from the club to near death by a North Vietnamese general to arriving in Bangkok once again a retailer of flesh. He tries to secure an escape using Kim and her son when he is nearly killed as a traitor. He is spared by the love for Kim by another man who wants her badly as Chris.

Thuy (Devin Ilaw), stands off against Chris, guns cocked on each other as he attempts to rescue Kim after wading through the war zone looking for her and ends up leaving without her confused as to why she would pick an American. He crosses to join the northern side and becomes an important military authority but cannot forget Kim.

This was extravagantly highlighted in the massive “Morning of the Dragon” number which features a large golden head of Ho Chi Minh and a rip-roaring performance by the Dragon Acrobats (Casey Lee Ross, Jason Sermonia, and Warren Yang) which won one of the best pops of the night. Thuy tries a second time to win her over but ends up getting shot dead by her attempting to kill her son when rejected a second time but we will hear from him again.

The most dramatic moment of the play had to be the Fall of Saigon which was shown in a flashback showing how Chris and Kim missed each other on that fateful night. An impressive stage prop, “The Helicopter” was an actual helicopter made of fiberglass that was gutted with only the front, rotor, tail light and cockpit remaining. It was tied to a steel piece that engineered its landing while large fans and lighting gave an interactive feel to what the citizens must have felt watching their country ripped apart and then seeing their hopes represented by the GI’s rushing into their ride flying away. “That’s the magic of theatre,” set designer Matt Kinley said, “Your mind fills in tbe blanks rather than everything being explicit.”

The son of an United States soldier. It was a repetitive theme at the Atlanta Conference of 1978 where children of American servicemen, many who were practically teenagers themselves, and Vietnamese women they bedded brought a complication to the conflict. Their lives were shown in an actual video presentation from that time. But the reality was they were reminders of an unpopular war and treated as vagrants ” Tre Bui-Doi” or “Dust of Life” back home. It’s three years now as Kim is in Bangkok with her son working the night club Moulin Rouge.

Engineer sends a report which falls into the hand of a former GI John (Nicolas Christopher) who, ironically almost had Kim in that brothel then,but is now a minister and is working to bring many of the Tre Bui-Doi to a better place, reuniting them with their fathers. He recognizes its Kim who is reported with child and brings the news to Chris.

He is not pleased to hear this as he has found a woman, Ellen, who has brought stability to his life as his wife. But Ellen lives with Chris’ nightmares and when Chris tells her what he has learned, she is afraid that a reunion with Kim might mean its over for them but bravely goes with Chris to Bangkok.

The Engineer is happier than everyone sensing his ticket to America is attached to Kim and her son and getting closer. The number “American Dream” with the Big Cadillac represented the depths of his dreams and was easily the best musical show number of the night. America has always meant unlimited dollars and parallels to many outside the United States as well as many Americans in recent years who, like Engineer suddenly saw the dollars slip out of their hands that never touched their fingers, a mirage, a dream in reality.

Kim is haunted by the dead spirit of Thuy who reminds her that this will not be a happy ending for her. She runs into Ellen looking for Chris in Room 317 and the exchange is tense. You could feel Kim’s heart tearing as she described it. She knows that she will not be Chris’ wife but she wants her son Tam to escape this place. She pours her heart into this wish. Her rendition of “Little God of my Heart” practically tore at all the heartstrings in the house.

When all the players are finally present, Kim eliminates the complications by shooting herself. Chris is beside himself in shock and sorrow as he embraces and kisses her for the final time, Ellen embraces Tam symbolizing they will bring him to be raised by them, Engineer is stunned when John stops him with hand extended. Engineer is the odd man out, closing the door shut to America forever.

No matter how many years pass from that unfortunate war that damaged two nations it’s a mistake to think that forgetting can bury the memory of what was done there. We cannot, like Pontius Pilate, wipe our hands of the blood spilled there no matter how clean the water.

The stain on a land and the thousands of Kims, Enginners, Thuys, and Tams that suffered or died should never be lost to history as well as the 55,000 Chris’ and John’s who fell thinking they would be remembered as one thing but dying often as footnotes. As we look at Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and perhaps North Korea in the near future, we can look back to 1975 and remember. If anything Miss Saigon can be considered a triumph of the truth. It willnot allow us to forget while it entertains us.

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