“Miss Saigon,” playing at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, portrays a large, tragic portrait of the end of the Vietnam War while telling the poignant story of how a brief interlude under this backdrop can have life-changing effects.
Many articles refer to the end of the war as “the last grim goodbye,” and this show portrays the frenzy and desperation with historical accuracy and an artistic overlay.
From the opening scene, which is set in April 1975 in Saigon at a depraved establishment dubbed Dreamland, the audience is spellbound. There are so many sights, sounds, actors and special effects that it is hard to know where to look next in this sad carnival of desperation.
The set design pulls you in, and you almost feel as if you are watching a ramped-up, historical news reel behind the scenes of the war. The ensemble goes a long way into selling the story from the first light cue, but no one sells the entire show more than the engineer, played with energetic perfection by Red Concepcion.
He masterfully works every scene he is in from start to finish. He cannot and will not be ignored. The engineer’s perversity is startling at first, but once you discover his backstory, you understand his character better and come to love him. Concepcion brings humor to tragic scenes with a wink and a nod. Few actors can get away with this.
In contrast, Emily Bautista portrays Kim with such naïveté and tenderness that your heart aches for what you know is to come in her miserable existence. She lives not in Dreamland but more in a series of nightmarish events.
Throughout the show, her powerhouse voice proves itself time and again. It’s hard to believe one person can sing this role. She sings with the emotion and anguish of someone who is suffering loss after loss, and relies on the value of memories and love. The amazing thing is although the theme of her ballads and duets is somewhat repetitive, it never seems so because of the clever staging.
And Anthony Festa (Chris) holds his own with a rich and beautiful range and tone.
Make time to punch out of your hectic life and watch history onstage with an infusion of artistry.
Tickets for “Miss Saigon” at the Palace Cadillac Theatre range from $35 to $120. Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut St.), the Broadway in Chicago ticket line at 800-775-2000 and online at www.broadwayinchicago.com. The show runs through Dec. 9.
• Mary Beth Euker is a co-founder of Cricket Theatre Co. in Lake Zurich and has been in several community theater productions in Woodstock and Skokie.