Monday, June 25, 2012

Genesius’ ‘Miss Saigon’ -- a night at the theater you won't forget

By Cheryl Thornburg
Bryon Smith and Rachel Pereira in "Miss Saigon"
There are many amazing moments in Genesius Theatre’s production of  “Miss Saigon,” but the one that will stay with me forever is the opening song of the second act, “Bui Doi,” sung by Chris Sperat and the best male chorus I have ever heard in a community theater production.  The song title, which translates to “dust of life” refers to the mixed-race children left behind after the American soldiers left Vietnam.  The powerful music and poignant lyrics, backed by projected images of these children, gave me goose bumps.
“Miss Saigon,” is basically a love story set in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War. Based on Puccini's opera, “Madame Butterfly,” it has all the power, emotion and tragedy of a classic opera, but it also has more theatrical musical numbers and choreography that bring it to the highest level of modern musicals.
Penned by the same team that created “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon” is filled with exquisite and challenging music and it takes a stellar cast to pull it off.
Director L J Fecho has found and melded just such a cast. There is palpable chemistry and cohesion as these characters interact.
Rachel Pereira has both the vocal and acting talent to create a memorable Kim, the young, orphaned teen who has just started working as a bar girl in a club that caters to American soldiers. As she is trying to adjust to her new situation, she catches the attention of Chris, a Marine who has been brought to the club by his friend John.
Chris, played by Bryon Smith, is captivated by Kim and they spend the night together, a night that changes both their lives. Smith has a spectacular voice that fills the theater with exquisite anguish as he sings, ‘Why God, Why.”  When he realizes he is leaving Vietnam right away, he tries, unsuccessfully, to bring her with him. He comes across as the ultimate good guy.
Irving Gonzalez as The Engineer with
some of the bar-girls
In contrast, Irving Gonzalez is a bad guy you love to hate as The Engineer, who cons young women into working for him in his club.  Gonzalez seems to relish the role, delivering great lines with a devilish gleam in his eye, and great songs like “If You Want to Die in Bed” and “The American Dream” with an equally devilish spark.
Brandon Kegerize also plays a character with an edge, Thuy, the young man who was betrothed to Kim by arrangement of their parents. When he comes to the club to rescue her, she spurns him and three years later in Bangkok, she rejects him again. Kegerize does a great job slowly building his rage that eventually erupts into a deadly scene.
Christopher Sperat, mentioned earlier, plays John, Chris’ best friend who becomes involved with the movement to help the children left behind, which sets the stage for the poignant and powerful second act, as he and Chris, and Chris’ wife, Ellen, arrive in Bangkok, where Kim, her son Tam, and the Engineer are now living.
Jennifer Parker Scott plays Ellen, and shines in the ballad, “Now That I’ve Seen Her.”
Another stand-out is  Elizabeth Cooper as Gigi who really gets the audience involved with “The Movie In My Mind” in the first act.
The other key player is Marianna Ott, who plays Tam, Kim and Chris’ young son. The mother–son scenes are the most tender and moving in the show.
There is a first-rate ensemble cast with accomplished singers and dancers to back up and interact with the key players.
The set for this production, designed by L J Fecho and Kyle Feltenberger, is ingenious, complex and massive. It makes Saigon itself another character in the show.
The choreography by Rachael Hart ranges from seductive to aggressive, capturing the different sides of Saigon in 1975. Pulling this off on such a small stage, is masterful.
Music director Kevin Cooper, who wowed the audiences in “The Man of La Mancha,” stays backstage this time around, conducting the unseen orchestra that is that foundation for  Claude-Michel Schonberg's music.
This production is filled with great lighting and sound effects, particularly in the fall of Saigon scene at the American embassy.
Genesius has once again managed to take an epic show, often produced on a huge stage, and make it work in the intimate setting of its 100-seat theater.
“Miss Saigon” runs through July 1 at Genesius Theatre, 153 Walnut St., (10th and Walnut streets) in Reading. To purchase tickets with all major credit cards and get more information visit the website at or call 610-373-9500 to purchase tickets with credit cards only. For more information, contact the theater at 610-371-8151. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and credit card fees apply.  Genesius Theatre is handicap accessible and there is free parking aside of the theater (limited spaces available).  The production is rated PG-13 – Adult Situations and Language.


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