Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Meaningful Noise

Miss Saigon, Rhinebeck 2014
One of the problems I have with the modern tendency to turn everything into a musical is that great material, excellent acting, and a profound message are put to music in such a way that it makes it difficult to really experience them.  Rhinebeck’s production of Miss Saigon is a case in point.
 Set over a period of three years in Vietnam, the action centers around a disillusioned GI named Chris (Jarek Zabczynski) and a village girl turned prostitute named Kim (Jasmin Sue Rogers) who meet and fall in love a few weeks before the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. The plot twists on the fate of Chris’s and Kim’s Amerasian son, Tam (Derrick Maxwell). 
            Rogers’ drop-dead amazing performance as Kim gives the play a poignancy and reality that humanizes the loud Broadway splash of the score.  I would have loved to listen to her sing her parts acoustically just for the pleasure of hearing the heart and strength of character she puts into her role. The chemistry between Zabczynski and Rogers is palpable. So too is the tender connection between Rogers and her little brother, Maxwell, whose comfortable stage presence illustrates the real tragedy of the story: the fact that the sound of history is the wail of mothers losing their children. Originally inspired by a photograph of a Vietnamese mother sending her daughter off to her American father, the show is often seen as a love story. But I think of it as a homage to women and the abuse they suffer at the hands of men.  For me the question Miss Saigon asks is, “What about the women?”
            Unfortunately, the answer is as it has always been. They have one choice: sacrifice yourself.  Sacrifice your body, your heart, your life, your child.  Perhaps if Schonberg and Boubil had been less concerned with pounding the audience with sound, the sorrows of the Vietnamese women might not have gotten lost in the noise.  Thankfully, the cast and crew of the Rhinebeck production do their job well and I left the theater grateful for all that mothers have done to make the world as wonderful as it is.
            Thank you, Mom.
            Now for the fun part.
Jarek Zabczynski is affecting as a Chris. He is entirely lovable, which is important because otherwise Kim’s love for him would have made the play ridiculous.
            Sal Polichetti is Rat Pack, slimy perfect in the role of Engineer, combining just the right amount of irony and optimism for the Fagan-like character who moves the action through history much as the Emcee did in Cabaret.
            Elizabeth Gerbi (as Chris’ wife) and Daniel Rushton (as  Kim’s rejected fiancĂ©) portray just the right amount of confusion and anger over the situation.
            As John, Chris’ friend , Jovan Bradley’s bluesy voice and straight from the hip integrity do well as the voice of reason in an otherwise irrational situation.
            Shouts-out to the chorus of men and women for managing to perform complex numbers in such a tiny space and in particular to the women who open the show in brazen and fleshy glory. Their presence on stage highlights the plight of all the invisible women affected by the idiocies of civilization.
            The stage crew… WOW! How on earth did you manage it?  You are awesome geniuses.
            Choreography, sound and lighting performed the difficult job of simultaneously responding to the grandiosity of the score while creating a claustrophobic environment in spite of a few technical glitches.  And personally, I think feeling the vibration of sound was as powerful as having a helicopter fly overhead. 
            Costumes and props: oft ignored but truly appreciated for the way your work completes the illusion. 
            Praise for director Anna Marie Paolercio who took a gigantic Broadway show and squeezed it onto the small stage thereby helping me understand what all the noise was about.

            Miss Saigon will be playing at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck May 2-25. Tickets: (845) 876-3080 or visit

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