Sunday, July 25, 2010

Miss Saigon Review

It took me a couple of days, but here's my review of Miss Saigon at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

This is the first time I have ever been to the Four Seasons and I have to say it was a very interesting theatre. It isn't built like any other I have been in. It felt very roomy. The orchestra pit and orchestra ring weren't too elevated from each other, which felt kind of weird. Either way, we got pretty good seats.

For the review I'm going to break down the components of the musical, starting with the most important aspect, the story.

For those who don't know, Miss Saigon is an adaptation of the opera Madam Butterfly, with slight variations. Both the lead women of the stories are Asian (Madam Butterfly is Japanese while Kim, from Miss Saigon is Vietnamese). Both are promised to be married by American Men (Pinket and Chris) and taken back to America, the reason being for Pinket who just wants to marry a girl in every nation, and Chris,a G.I. in Vietnam decides Kim would be better off in the USA. They are both 'married' in their native country, but the marriage doesn't count in the US for different reasons. In Madam Butterfly, marriages in Japan are like leases that one can leave at anytime, and in Miss Saigon, they have a ceremony with the Vietnamese bar girls, but it is not a proper ceremony in both regards. Also, at the Embassy, it is made clear that Chris must marry Kim on American soil. Both the men leave for different reasons, and do not return for three years. During this time, M.B and Kim are pressured into marrying another man. Both refuse, saying they are already married, and produce a son, claiming that their husband will come back for their child. Both men have returned to America and have remarried since then. They are notified to return. Kim and M.B realize the man they have loved has moved on, and commits suicide.

Now, there is more to the story of Miss Saigon than that. Miss Saigon opens up during the Vietnam war. A man of French and Vietnam descent called The Engineer , who dreams of going to America, has a bar called Dream Land where many G.I.'s come looking for prostitutes. Kim, an 17 year old orphaned virgin is starting her first night as a bar girl. The Engineer holds a weekly contest called Miss Saigon where the men vote for the prettiest bar girl and crown her Miss Saigon. The girl with the title of Miss Saigon is then raffled off to a G.I. The winner of Miss Saigon this night is a bar girl named Gigi. After Gigi has been raffled off to a GI, she begs him to take her to America with him and marry her. The enrages the GI and the bar girls sing about how they want a better life in America.

At the same time, John and Chris enter the bar. John wants to buy Chris some fun but all he wants is a beer. When John sees Kim, he arranges with the Engineer to get a dance and a room for Kim and Chris. At first, Kim is reluctant and Chris is not interested and they share a dance. Chris tries to pay Kim to leave the club, and the Engineer interferes, thinking Chris doesn't like Kim. Kim then leads Chris upstairs to a room.

After they sleep together, Chris asks God why he has met Kim just as he's about to leave Vietnam. Kim wakes up, and Chris offers her money, but she refuses and admits to this being her first time. She then reveals that she became a prostitute because her parents had both died during the war and she did not want to marry the man she was promised to. Moved by this, Chris decides to bring Kim back to America and marry her so she will not continue to sell her body to survive.

Chris calls John asking for leave time to spend time with Kim. John warns Chris that they'll be leaving soon as the Viet Cong will be taking control of Saigon. Chris asks for just two days, and John agrees to cover for him. Chris then arranges to take Kim from the nightclub and the Engineer tries to get a Visa out of the deal. Chris refuses and holds the Engineer at gunpoint until he agrees to a sum of money instead.

The other bar girls hold a ceremony for Kim and Chris. Kim's cousin Thuy, an officer of the North Vietnamese Army, arrives, claiming to have looked all over for her. Thuy reveals that he is the man she was arranged to be married to. Kim says that because her parents have died, they deal is off and she is not obliged to carry through with it. Thuy says she has disrespected her family and he curses her before he leaves. Chris promises Kim he will take her with him when he leaves Vietnam and they dance together.

Three years pass and there is a celebration in Saigon, now called Ho Chi Mihn City in honour of the third anniversary of the new government and the defeat of the Americans. Thuy has become a commissioner in the new government and is now looking for Kim. Thuy finds the Engineer and orders him to find Kim for him. Kim meanwhile believes Chris will come back for her and is living in an impoverished area of the city. Meanwhile, Chris is in bed with his American wife Ellen, and awakes from a nightmare calling Kim's name.

The Engineer brings Thuy to Kim. Thuy offers to marry Kim, but Kim refuses and shows him her three year old son Tam, the child of Chris. Thuy calls Kim and traitor and tries to kill Tam. Kim pulls out a handgun and shoots Thuy. Kim cradles Thuy as he dies, and then escapes with Tam. She finds the Engineer and tells her what she has done, and he agrees to help her once he finds out that she has a son with an American. He believes he can use them to get a passport to America and refers to himself as Tam's uncle. He takes them to Bangkok and they leave on a boat with other refugees.

Back in American, John is now working for an organization that connects child conceived in the war with their American fathers, called Bui Doi. He receives information that Kim is alive and has a son. He immediately finds Chris to give him the information. Chris is relieved to find Kim is alive, as he feels guilty for what has happened in the past. But he is now married to Ellen, and has not told her about what happened in Vietnam. John and Chris agree that it is now time to inform Ellen of what happened. The Engineer is hawking for a bar club in Bangkok and Kim works there as a dancer. John, Chris and Ellen arrive in Bangkok looking for Kim. John finds Kim and tells her that Chris is in Bangkok. John doesn't have the heart to tell her that Chris is remarried, and Kim believes she is going back to America with Chris. John tells her he will bring Chris to her.

The Engineer does not trust that Chris is in Bangkok and tells Kim to find Chris herself. Kim is then haunted by the ghost of Thuy and relives her nightmare of what happened three years ago.

In a flashback, Kim and Chris sign paperwork to bring her to the US. As things become chaotic at the embassy, Chris is asked to help. He tells Kim to pack and leaves her his gun. When Chris gets to the Embassy he finds that there is an order for an immediate evacuation of all remaining Americans and the Ambassador orders that no more Vietnamese are allowed in the embassy. Kim rushes down to the Embassy, trying to get through. Chris tries to call her at her home but gets no answer. He then tries to find her in the crowd but John punches him out to stop him from leaving. John and Chris are they ushered into the helicopter and Kim watches from the outside, pledging her love.

The Engineer has found the hotel room where Chris is staying at and gives it to Kim. Kim dresses in her 'wedding' clothes and goes to the hotel. When she arrives, Chris is not there as John had taken Chris down to the bar to see Kim. Ellen, Chris' wife is there, and reveals that she is his wife. Kim refuses to believe her. She then begs Ellen to take her son Tam so he can have a better life, the one she promised him. Ellen refuses to take Tam because she doesn't want to separate Kim and her son, and she wants children of her own with Chris. Kim demands that Chris tell her these things in person and runs off. Ellen realizes that Kim still loves Chris and when John and Chris return after not finding Kim, Ellen issues an ultimatum: Kim or her. Chris reassures her that he loves only her. They then agree that it is best for Kim and Tam to stay in Bangkok and they will support them from afar. John tells them that Kim will not find it acceptable to leave Tam in Thailand. Kim lies to the Engineer that they are all going to America and the Engineer imagines what his life would be like in America and living the American Dream.

Kim tells Tam he has a father now, and that she will be watching over him. The Engineer, John, Chris and Ellen arrive at the club, and Kim tells Tam to go meet his father. Once Tam is outside, Kim steps behind a curtain and shoots herself. Hearing the gun shot, they all rush into the room and find Kim mortally wounded. Chris cradles her in his arms as she dies, and Kim explains that the Gods have guided him here to his son. Chris begs her not to die, and she asks him to hold her one more time, then she dies.

The themes of this story are powerful; the American Dream, a Better Life, Sacrifice, Love and Tragedy.

The one thing I walked away with from this story was that men are jerks. Chris supposedly falls in love with Kim, but we are lead to believe that he more or less feels sorry for her and wants her to have a better life. Whether he truly loved her, as she loved him - I have my doubts. He explains that he tried to find her in the three years he was gone, but admits to being with Ellen for two years, and they had been married for one of those years. In a war ridden country, where not everyone has a phone and many people are poor, it would take a long time to track someone down. I just got the impression that Chris didn't try as hard as he could have, if he really loved her. His nightmares of her dying could have resulted in not only the guilt he had for not bringing her with him, but the lack of time he spent looking for her as well.

The story also stirs up a lot of stereotypes - the gentle, submissive and feminine East and the dominate, masculine West. The West feels that they need to protect the East. While Kim did need a better life than the one she had in Vietnam, there were many references to Chris guarding her from harm. It also reinforced a lot of female stereotypes like the jealous wife who refuses to allow Kim and Tam to both move to America, as she doesn't feel comfortable having her around since Kim still loves Chris. The other stereotype is the woman who is blindly in love with a man. After three years she holds out for him, even though (unknowing to her) he has moved on. Maybe it's because I'm not one for love stories, especially unbelievable ones, which is strange since I grew up with Disney, that I just couldn't get into the love part of the love story. A tragic one at that, and the tragedy was there. I cried three times during the entire thing. Would I see it again, like I would Wicked or Phantom of the Opera? Probably not.

The music was decent. There were a couple of songs that I really liked, but nothing that stuck with me as much as other songs in the past have. I probably would have bought the soundtrack, had they been selling anything at the theatre. The lack of merchandise at the theatre was a huge surprise for us.

The backgrounds, effects and dancers were memorable. I recall a couple of scenes I really enjoyed such as The Morning of the Dragon, and the scene with the helicopter. Some of the background dancers were fantastic. There were a couple of scenes where there were bar girls, and I was convinced every time that someone would take off their top and jiggle their tits around.

All the performers did an outstanding job, except for the actress who was Ellen. I mean, she wasn't a bad singer or anything, but she really belted it out. During the scene where she's in bed with Chris and singing about how much she loves him despite he never tells her what is going on, she's practically screaming in his ear while he has a nightmare (maybe it was her singing). She is a powerhouse for sure, because she did this in her other numbers as well. She wasn't a bad singer.. just LOUD. The Engineer was very well done. He was slimy but entertaining. Chris was good looking, a great singer but I felt nothing for the character. Kim was beautiful, talented and oh so tragic that she made the role so believable.

So in the end, I did have a good time. I had some issues with the story and some of the portrayal, but this is after all, a suspension of belief. I was glad I had the chance to see it.

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