So yesterday I watched the film production of Miss Saigon, not a movie but the musical’s 25th anniversary performance captured on video. Until last night, I’ve only really just listened to the original London cast recording and have not heard the dialogue that went on between the songs I’ve loved since I raided my grandfather’s CD collection in the early 90s (yep, got my love of musicals from him).
I’ve always had it in my head that Miss Saigon was simply the Romeo & Juliet of the Vietnam War—two star-crossed lovers torn apart, reunited but in the most undesirable of circumstances, and, well, we all know what went on in the end (spoilers ahead).
While it does sort of have that R&J vibe, I didn’t realize how incredibly unsettling Kim’s character was when you finally see the entire thing live (in my case, sort of). Here was an innocent girl whose life was ravaged by war, who met a man and saw him as that one glimmer of hope, the sun to her moon who would whisk her away from the country she loves but has robbed her of her entire family and future. Like most romances, their love is intense, but something just gnaws at you, giving you that nagging feeling that it isn’t quite right. I guess when you see the play, you see the entirety of it—the nuances that tell you this goes beyond the typical plot of boy meets girl, they fall in love as immediately as they are torn apart, boy marries another, tragic ending.
When I watched the full production, I saw that Miss Saigon is really less about love and more a story about the spoils of war—how that utterly devastating, diminishing event can turn even the most innocent of innocents into a killer (or a devilish engineer), how even when a young woman killed to save her son, the guilt of having blood on her hands would follow her all the way from Saigon to Bangkok, always lurking beneath the surface, and eventually adding to the reason why she did what she did in the end.
All throughout the dreadful ordeal of picking up the pieces, hope of her “sun” returning and whisking her away to “the other side of the world” not only burned but was the very thing that drove her to survive. So it’s really crushing to see that almost immediately after her prayers are answered, she hurtles to the depths of despair when instead of finding Chris in the hotel room, she meets his wife. And just like that, hope is lost—not just for her but her son Tam, as Chris and Ellen had apparently agreed it best he stay with Kim.
Ellen isn’t exactly without sympathy here because it isn’t her fault she fell in love and married an ex-marine who didn’t tell her a thing about what really happened in Vietnam. The most clue she got about his past was the name he often screamed out in his sleep: Kim. (Should’ve checked with his buddy John, girl.) And then there is Chris. Chris who is, well, let’s just say that after watching the full production, he didn’t really have my full vote in the end. I think out of all the characters in the play, his ended up the most self-serving. Kim had put him on a pedestal, and how he handled the entire situation of finding he had fathered her son was, well, I guess the kindest way to put it would be he showed the weaker side of being human.
Now the one who truly stole the show for me—and I’m utterly surprised by this because I’ve always found his character annoying and his solos were my least favorites—was The Engineer. Oh the man is one cunning and sneaky bastard and more, but the actor Jon Jon Briones did such a fucking awesome job of portraying his character with such vim and vigor and GLEE (Yes! That is the word!) that he actually managed to make the Engineer win my sympathy, admiration, and delight. Absolute delight this one! I’ve never laughed so much watching a character strut his stuff on stage—the range of expressions and emotions in one scene…DAMN SON. He’s even gotten me to listen to ‘If you want to die in bed‘ and ‘The American Dream‘ with fresh ears.
I’ve always believed Filipino thespians are world-class—but Jon Jon is a class on his own. I’ve never been so impressed with and felt absolutely giddy about a performance—his rendition of The American Dream scene is permanently stamped on my brain. I can only imagine what it would be like to watch him do all of that live. The idea is giving me goosebumps on my goosebumps.
One of my biggest regrets has always been that I’ve never seen Miss Saigon LIVE.
But since it’s going to be in Broadway next year, I guess never say never… ❤