“Miss Saigon” Scorches Aurora’s Paramount Theatre Stage

SHARE “Miss Saigon” Scorches Aurora’s Paramount Theatre Stage
SHARE “Miss Saigon” Scorches Aurora’s Paramount Theatre Stage

‘MISS SAIGON’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When: Through Nov. 24

Where: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

Tickets: $36.90-$49.90

Info: (630) 896-6666; www.ParamountAurora.com

Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

“Miss Saigon,” the musical that plays a Vietnam War era variation on Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” story, began life on the London stage in 1989, and arrived on Broadway two years later amid much controversy about casting and a big-budget helicopter scene. Yet no amount of distraction could obscure the fact that the show was (and remains) a masterpiece — a work of phenomenal emotional punch, historical gravitas and musical beauty.

Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, this musical — by composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. — is receiving one of its most formidable revivals to date at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

Those familiar with the Paramount’s Broadway Series, now in its third season, need no reminder that this is not just Broadway on the Fox River, but Broadway at its most golden, with formidable actors, grand-scale design and a large, topnotch orchestra as givens.

Set between April, 1975 (on the eve of this country’s chaotic evacuation from Vietnam), and 1978 (by which time many Vietnamese had fled to Bangkok, Thailand), the musical homes in on the brief but passionate relationship forged between Chris (Brandon Moorhead), an American G.I., and Kim (Shawna Haeji Shin), a Vietnamese girl from the countryside who arrives in Saigon and briefly works at a bar that services soldiers. Snaking his way throughout the story is The Engineer (Joseph Anthony Foronda), a half-French, half-Vietnamese sleaze merchant whose sole obsession is to snag a visa to the U.S.

Vividly directed by Paramount’s artistic director, Jim Corti — who has cast the show with actors who generate a powerful onstage chemistry, and whose acting is as formidable as their clarion voices — this “Miss Saigon” unfolds with immense momentum and intensity. Love, war and desperation mix with opportunism, cruelty and battered dreams from first beat til last, with a scorching score that moves from ballad to anthem, prayer to aria, seductive jazz riff to political rant.

Shin, with her warmly lyrical voice and tiny frame, brings a most intriguing mix of vulnerability and ferocity to Kim, suggesting the inner strength that drives this woman at every turn. Moorhead, strong yet tender, has a rich, all-embracing voice that beautifully captures the angst and confusion of his character. And Foronda, in a role he has played before, brings a hunger, bite and amorality to The Engineer, a man hellbent on survival at any price.

As Tam, Kim’s child with Chris, the tiny, beautifully expressive Zachary Uzarraga is pure magic. You can’t take your eyes off him. And there are memorable turns by Elliot Greer (as Chris’s officer pal, John), Sophie Kim (as a bar girl), Emilie Lynn (as Ellen, Chris’ American wife, who does a powerhouse job with “Now That I’ve Seen Her”), and W. Blaine Brown (as the Vietnamese soldier Kim was supposed to marry).

All this, plus Shawn Stengel’s expert musical direction, Jeff Hancock’s choreography and Linda Buchanan’s set (ever-reconfigured scaffolding and red bamboo poles, with dramatic lighting by Jesse Klug, sound by Adam Rosenthal and projections by Mike Tutaj), combining to heartstopping effect in a production not to be missed.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic


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