Last weekend, I spent a warm Saturday night in a hard Starlight Theatre chair, sobbing. I’m not really proud of the amount I cried throughout the evening. I don’t normally cry that much. I guess you could say I’m a sucker for Boublil and Schoneberg.
On Saturday, I was blessed to have been able to see the Starlight Theatre production of “Miss Saigon,” a haunting musical that follows the love story of Kim, a Vietnamese girl and her American soldier, Chris. Composers Boublil and Schoneberg wrote “Miss Saigon” in protest to the Vietnam War, following the whirlwind success of their debut musical, “Les Miserables.” The topic of the Vietnam War is tragic enough, as it was one of the most morally challenging wars that Americans took part in. But the storyline of “Miss Saigon” goes beyond tragic, entering a realm of heartbreak that necessitates a full box of Kleenexes per patron.
This is not a negative review. Not at all. “Miss Saigon” is a painful musical, but its beauty overwhelms its sadness. It begins in a Saigon brothel, where Kim is a new prostitute who quickly falls in love with Chris, a Marine who frequents the brothel. They share several days and nights together, in which they marry and promise to spend their lives together.
But this is not an easy time for love, especially in Vietnam. Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese only a few days after Chris and Kim fall for each other, and Chris is swept back to the U.S., leaving Kim behind with a broken heart — and pregnant with Chris’ son.
The rest of the musical follows Kim’s physical struggle to support her bui-doi, or half-breed, son. Chris remarries in the U.S., but his dreams are filled with guilt over Kim. When he and his wife discover that Kim is alive with a son, he must make the choice of whether or not to face his past.
Probably the most famous aspect of “Miss Saigon” is the helicopter. A military helicopter is featured on the posters, the t-shirts and every other piece of “Miss Saigon” merchandise because of an amazing piece of Broadway magic — a life-size helicopter is landed onstage. It is one of the more impressive technical stunts I have seen onstage, and adds great depth to the heart-wrenching scene of the evacuation of Saigon.
But I am pleased to say that this production didn’t rely on technical stunts. The deep cast of talented singers, perfectly highlighted by the outstanding men’s choir in “Bui-Doi,” were what kept me weeping for the majority of the second act.
The actors for both Chris and Kim are some of the strongest voices I have ever heard in a traveling cast. I was lucky enough to have tickets for opening night, which secured me an extraordinary performance from the entire cast. Chris stood out to me especially, capturing a richness with his voice that fit his character perfectly.
This show is both a great study of the Vietnam War and of love. The Starlight production was one of spectacular beauty, and will continue to play in Kansas City through Sept. 13. Don’t miss out — tickets are still on sale, and the greatest tragedy would be missing the chance to see this amazing story and ensemble.