'Miss Saigon' presents love and heartbreak in the face of war

Newly upgraded Broadway musical brings new perspectives to Shea's

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The classic Broadway musical “Miss Saigon” brought its renewed production to Shea’s Performing Arts Center. The story takes a critical look at the Vietnam War and the impact of Western interference. The performance offers vibrant set designs and elaborate choreography in the tragedy. 

The production began on Tuesday and runs until Sunday and is a part of the M&T Bank Broadway Series. The show is riddled with humorous dialogue and visual gags, but the plot delves deep into the tragedies surrounding the Vietnam War. 

“Miss Saigon” tells the story of the character Kim throughout the Vietnam War and her turn to prostitution in order to survive. She falls in love with an American G.I. prior to the fall of Saigon. The two are separated as the Americans flee Vietnam, which leaves both to deal with the ramifications of their relationship on different sides of the world.

The show features familiar musical numbers like “Last Night of the World” and “I’d Give My Life For You.” But the production takes its own artistic liberties. It altered and removed multiple numbers to accommodate the cultural shifts around feminism. The number “Now that I’ve Seen Her,” which aggressively pits the two love interests against each other, was subsequently replaced. The replacement comes off as significantly less resentful, but still misplaced.

The characters, despite the update in musical numbers, are still ingrained with internalized misogyny. The attitudes throughout the production are historically and culturally accurate, but still come across as uncomfortable. The love interest, Chris, is still framed as a noble man, despite gaslighting his wife and never confronting his past trauma. Vietnamese sex workers are physically and sexually abused. Chris’s American wife blames herself for his emotional absence and deception. This all contributes to the tragic nature of the show. 

Lisa Daily, a Buffalo resident, admired how the story acknowledged a cruel history.

“I think the show has aged well. Especially with the changes they made,” Daily said. “I don’t think it could’ve ended any differently. It was a sad, tragic war and it needed a sad ending.”

The production was able to offset the somber plot with stunning visuals and practical effects. The layered set designs were able to create an ideal war-torn, yet sleazy atmosphere. It was often like looking at a post-apocalypse Las Vegas. 

Different set pieces and props often appeared out of nowhere, but none impressed the audience more than the “helicopter.” The practical effect incorporated props, lighting and sound which gave the impression of a helicopter soaring overhead. 

The show featured an incredibly talented cast. Emily Bautista, who played Kim, stood out with her vocal ability. She exhibited remarkable breath control and never appeared fatigued. 

But Red Concepcion stole the show as the engineer. He was able to contrive charisma yet come off as immoral and unpleasant. The engineer provided comic relief, but was also the first character willing to physically harm a sex worker. 

Despite the narrative surrounding Kim and Chris, it seems that the engineer was the most significant character within the production. The character embodies the patriarchal values within the story’s historical context. It also showcases one of the negative effects of western influence. The engineer was willing to manipulate and capitalize on anyone weaker than him, all in order to eventually move to America. 

 

Samantha Vargas and Julianna Tracey are the asst. arts editors and can be reached at Samantha.Vargas@ubspectrum.com and Julianna.Tracey@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @SamVargasArts and @JTraceySpec.