The inspiration for "Miss Saigon," the Broadway hit musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, reportedly came from a magazine photograph published in 1985, depicting a Vietnamese mother, devoid of emotion on her face, delivering her child to a departure gate at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to board a plane headed for the U.S. "where her father, an ex-GI, would be in a position to provide a much better life for the child." Schönberg considered this mother's actions for her child to be "the ultimate sacrifice."
Though I've seen "Miss Saigon" in the past, I had forgotten this background tale that sparked what is now a favorite stage story.
Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora, is offering a new staging of "Miss Saigon," now until Nov. 24, for this epic of emotions and raw romance, with lessons of boundaries and acceptance.
Directed by Paramount Theatre Artistic Director Jim Corti, "Miss Saigon" is the second installment in the Paramount's "Better than Broadway" 2013-14 Broadway series.
From these creators of "Les Miserables," "Miss Saigon" is the riveting story of an American soldier, played here by actor Brandon Moorhead, who has a great voice but needs more of a military tough edge for balance. He falls in love with Vietnamese bargirl Kim, played by Shawna Haeji Shin, who at times, is more shrill than delicate as intended for some scene interaction. As the fall of Saigon is looming, American servicemen are evacuating, resulting in tough decisions that impact the lives of all.
Watching actor Joseph Anthony Foronda as the "Engineer," the puppet-master who seems to pull all the strings to control matters and missions that result in the destiny and future of all he encounters, is alone, certainly worth the price of admission to this musical. He is every bit the wheeler and dealer and his musical numbers are show-stoppers.
From the opening number "The Heat is On in Saigon" to "The American Dream," Foronda is a pinnacle of talent.
Backed by an amazing full orchestra with music direction by Shawn Stengel, the choreography for this production is also beautiful to behold. While Linda Buchanan has created some stunning scenic design, including two large, moving towers of would-be bamboo structures, I was less sold on the use of projections designed to be incorporated into scenes by Mike Tutaj. In many scenes, I found the photo images distracting. But when it gets to the famed helicopter scene, it's riveting enough and so finely executed filled with enough action to leave audience members holding on to their seats.
To meet growing demand for its Broadway series, Paramount has extended each show's run from three to four weeks in 2013-14. Show times are 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Miss Saigon is rated PG-13 for adult themes and language.
Single tickets are $36.90 to $49.90. FYI: ParamountAurora.com or (630) 896-6666.