Tragic love culminates incredible journey in “Miss Saigon”

Published on April 1st, 2021

By Jim Dail

It’s 1975 and a time of war. An epic struggle continues even as the United States prepares pull troops out of Vietnam.

Enter Kim, a 17-year-old girl whose family is killed during the Vietnam War, and is then thrown into the world of Vietnamese bar culture.

Thus begins the tragic journey that is the focus of Tony-winning “Miss Saigon,” which plays May 4-9 at the Pechanga Showroom in Temecula.

The story is a whirlwind of despair, hope and then despair again. Kim is introduced as a new prostitute, a virgin from the country, by The Engineer, a notorious wheeler-dealer played by Jon Jon Briones. Kim winds up with a young American GI, Chris (Allen Gillespie). They fall in love but when Saigon falls, Chris is pulled out. Believing he will never see Kim again, he marries an American woman, Ellen (Rachel Kopf), unaware that his time with Kim has resulted in the birth of a child, Tam (Nicholas Bugarin and Jonathan Wade).

Chris is reunited two years later with Kim in Bangkok. However, circumstances lead to a tragic conclusion, as Kim gives up Tam so he may have a better chance of life in the United States.

“Miss Saigon” was created by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, who previously partnered for “Les Miserables.” It is directed by Mitchell Lemsky, who handled associate director duties for the Broadway show, as well as touring productions.

The show is also among the most successful ever. It is the sixth-longest running show in Broadway history and has been seen by more than 28 million worldwide.

This production is a “scaled-back” show, seeing that part of the original version was a massive production full of special effects and scenery. Originally, Theatrical Arts International wanted to bring the production to Pechanga during its first season, but the theater simply wasn’t large enough to handle some elements, such as those necessary for the famed helicopter scene.

“We’re still going to have to see what they’ve done to scale it back,” said Theatrical Arts International executive vice president and producer Allen Evenson. “It’s coming in seven trucks instead of the usual nine.”

However, that shouldn’t take away from the show one bit.

“When we saw it in New York, I guess some 10 years ago, we liked it but felt the spectacle took away from the story because it was so huge,” Evenson said. “It’s like ‘Sunset Boulevard’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera’ where the spectacle overshadows the story.”

As a point of reference, “Fosse,” the last TAI show at Pechanga was also a “smaller” production.

“They cut stuff out of ‘Fosse,’ but from the audience standpoint they didn’t lose anything,” Evenson said.

Having already put the production on in San Bernardino, Evenson has no doubt the story will win out.

“When we did it in San Bernardino it was in such an intimate space that the story came out so much better,” he said, “It came across in a gut-wrenching way, wonderful but tragic. After we did it we said to ourselves ‘We’ve got to get it to Temecula.’”

Lead actress Jennifer Paz agrees.

“It’s nice to be able to bring the show to places that haven’t seen it,” said actress Paz, who played Kim on the First National Tour of “Miss Saigon” and reprises the role for several performances at Pechanga. “We are playing a lot of smaller venues, well small in perspective because 2,000-seat theaters to me are not that small. What happens is that the story comes through because there is more emphasis on the story, characters and the music, which is absolutely gorgeous.”

The production features musical numbers that have stood the test of time such as “The Heat is On in Saigon,” “The Movie in My Mind,” “Why God Why?,” “Sun and Moon,” and “I Still Believe.”

The story is also quite timely, considering the war in Iraq.

“Anytime you’ve got a story dealing with a war issue I think it throws people together who may not normally be together, which makes for an interesting story,” Evenson said. “I’m sure there are stories just like this actually happening in Iraq.”

However, it’s not just a war story.

“It’s still about two people who fell in love, and how things can happen that tear them apart,” he said. “It’s more like life. Sometimes things work out, but sometimes they don’t.”

For Evenson, it’s about the emotion and coping with circumstances.

“Chris thinks Kim is dead so he goes on with his life, only to have it all come back,” he said. “How you deal with it, who you reconcile it is the story.”

The cast also features Jennifer Hubilla, who will play Kim for certain performances; Wallace Smith, as John; Tadeo as Thuy; and Ramona Dubarry as Gigi and Ellen.


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