Street Theatre Company opened its run of Miss Saigon Wednesday to a packed house. The show is presented in a minimal concert-style; there are no sets, minimal costumes, and the chorus sits on stage behind the lead actors. With such sparse staging, the production relies entirely on the strength of the actors and their voices. And, for the most part, this reliance works beautifully.
Leading the cast are theater newcomer Larissa Maestro as Kim, Michael Holder as Chris, Danny Tran as Thuy and Kenny Eiland as the Engineer. Street Theatre Company Artistic Director Cathy Street helms the show while Rollie Mains serves as Music Director.
A modern take on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon takes place during the fall of Saigon in 1975. A tragic love story between an American GI and a Vietnamese orphan, Miss Saigon is an emotional and epic musical written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (the team behind Les Misérables) and first performed in London’s West End in 1989.
Unfortunately, the first half of Act I on Wednesday was dominated by getting the sound exactly right. Once that was resolved it was very smooth for the remainder of the performance.
Though the weaker of the two acts, Act I brings us standout moments from Maestro, Holder and Tran. Maestro may be new to the theatre stage, but she brings such emotion and passion to Kim that at times her entire body shakes with Kim’s anger or fear. Her doe-eyed and innocent appearance makes her a perfect match for the role.
Also perfectly cast is Tran as Thuy, the North Vietnamese soldier. Maestro and Tran together in the dramatic “This Is the Hour” give an exhilarating piece and the highest point of Act I. Additionally, Holder’s rendition of “Why God Why” showcases his truly pristine voice and acting chops.
Act II begins with one of the strongest songs of the show, “Bui-Doi,” sung by Josh Waldrep as John. A moving piece about Vietnamese orphans after the fall of Saigon, Waldrep delivers a compelling performance that sets the tone for a magnificent second act.
The entire cast seems to come alive during Act II, weaving together emotional performances that left some opening night audience members in tears. Projected images behind the actors are used in the famed second-act helicopter scene to convey the setting for the American evacuation ofSaigon, and the chorus (acting as the mob of left-behind Vietnamese) is the true star of that scene. The emotional climax of the production comes in the meeting between Ellen (played by Kristi Mason) and Kim (“Room 317”). The two women have such chemistry on stage, and Maestro delivers such a palpable devastation that the scene becomes the show’s most intense and intimate.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention Eiland’s performance as the Engineer. What Eiland lacks in vocal prowess he makes up for in energy, enthusiasm and believability. He maintains a perfect balance between comic relief and bitter cynicism, turning the Engineer into a character we love in some instances and hate in others. His shining moments are Act II’s “What a Waste” and “The American Dream.”
Don’t wait to buy tickets – with performances running this weekend only, there are few opportunities to see Miss Saigon live in concert with such a strong cast of new and veteran performers.
Miss Saigon continues at Street Theater Company (1933 Elm Hill Pk.) through Sunday (Nov. 18). Performances are Today-Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets ($16-$18) are available by clicking here.