The Music Circus’ 2011 season is going out with a bang — a shot echoing in the round tent in its last production, “Miss Saigon.” With music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boubil, “Miss Saigon” delivers a riveting, heart-wrenching tale of love amidst the Vietnam War and beyond, mostly recounted in its 29 songs.
Ma-Anne Dionisio plays Kim, an innocent village girl whose family is massacred before her eyes and who ends up as a bar girl. Dionisio is perfect in a role she seems born to play, although it obviously helps that she has also performed the role in London and Canada. Kim’s tale, delivered through her now-grown son, Tam (Billy Bustamante), serves as a long flashback of her life.
She meets two American Marines, John (Josh Tower) and his buddy, Chris (Eric Kunze), who is so smitten with her, he ends up paying the club manager, nicknamed the Engineer (Kevin Gray), for Kim so they can live together at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Kunze, who also performed his role on Broadway, is convincing as the soldier who wants to do the right thing even as the war is tumbling down around him.
The couple participate in a ceremony that is part of the Vietnamese wedding tradition, a joyous occasion until Thuy (Michael K. Lee), Kim’s betrothed, tries to take her away. The tension is thick as Thuy insists she belongs to him, that their parents arranged their marriage when they were children.
But old tradition loses to the newfangled idea of love that’s so ever present, especially early in this 2-1⁄2-hour production, when the bar girls sing “The Movie in My Mind,” a highly romanticized (and unrealistic) picture of romance and love, painted courtesy of Hollywood’s celluloid fantasies.
Saigon falls and Chris loses track of Kim in the melee. After unsuccessfully searching for her, he eventually starts a new but tortured life at home in the States. Kim pines for him even as she bears his son, Tam. Aiden Kusaba as the young Tam steals the show without saying a word as his mother sings of her love for his father in a beautiful but plaintive voice.
Ah, it’s a tangled web of love and longing when mother and son escape to Bangkok in the hope of getting to America — and to Chris. They end up at a camp for the bui-doi children born to American and Vietnamese who were conceived during the war. Coincidently, Chris’ friend, John, works there, at this “camp for children whose crime was being born.”
The Engineer, opportunistic as ever, hitches a ride with Kim and Tam. Gray really gets campy, evidenced as he swoons and croons, “The American Dream, it’s like an éclair, I’ll suck out the cream.” The female ensemble members, in blonde wigs and white halter dresses a la Marilyn Monroe, dance around him as a Statue of Liberty adorned with a robe of a flag and crisp greenbacks hits the stage. He caresses it as the love of his life — a symbol of America, where he can make money and lots of it.
Kudos to Stephen Gifford, scenic designer, and Angela Enos, costume designer, whose touches added to the credibility of war in all its ugliness but rendered this tortured love story even more poignant.
When Kim finally meets Chris again, it’s nothing like her dreams or the happy ending she had planned, like those in the movies. The once-innocent village girl takes hold of her fate in the cruel city of Saigon for the love of her son.