Jacqueline Nguyen with the ensemble of the "Miss Saigon." (Michael Lamont. )
The heat is on in La Mirada, where “Miss Saigon” blows into the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and transports the audience skyward. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s phenomenally successful Vietnam War-era gloss on “Madama Butterfly” receives a sleekly staged, wonderfully performed revival that heightens this critic-proof popera’s strengths and obscures its frailties, to impressive effect.
Joseph Anthony Foronda conveys spontaneous wit and sardonic grit as the pimping, visa-obsessed Engineer. This character, the evening's emcee and narrative engine, could descend into leering hamminess, but Foronda expertly balances sleaze, pragmatism and realism, from the opening “The Heat is On in Saigon” onward.
That milieu-setting number, where gyrating hookers vie for the highest bidder, introduces virginal 17-year-old heroine Kim, played here by the luminous Jacqueline Nguyen. Reportedly the first Vietnamese actress to star in a major “Saigon” production, Nguyen’s emotional acuity and water-clear soprano convinces throughout, especially in tandem with golden-voiced Kevin Odekirk as American G.I. Chris, their duets soaring and potent.
So is the whole ensemble, committed to Dana Solimando’s adroit choreography, gorgeously harmonizing under musical director John Glaudini’s baton. Lawrence Cummings as Chris’ buddy, Aidan Park as Kim’s betrothed and April Malina as the winner of the titular contest have such vocal and dramatic intensity you wish their parts were larger. Preternaturally poised Ken Shim as the 3-year-old plot pivot steals every heart, and Cassandra Murphy gives the thankless role of Chris’ American wife a full-throated conviction that wouldn’t shame Idina Menzel.
Director Brian Kite shrewdly streamlines Nicholas Hytner’s original staging without losing iconic quality. Designer Dustin J. Cardwell’s rolling screens and sliding pieces are sparer than some productions, but they put the characters and situations into full focus. Mela Hoyt-Heydon’s effective costumes, Julie Ferrin’s thunderous sound and Steven Young’s spectacular lighting commingle to create some sensational stage pictures, and not just the celebrated helicopter that delineates the fall of Saigon.
Schönberg’s lush, leit-motif-heavy melodies rarely rival his “Les Miz” tunes, but in William D. Brohn’s string-laden orchestrations they land with the fervor of vintage Romberg or Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The biggest liabilities, as always, are Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr.’s prosaic lyrics, sometimes prolix, often downright clunky, and a libretto than can feel less based on grand opera than soap opera, though certainly its war-survivor and immigration aspects remain topical. In any event, this solid reading will surely engross general audiences, even if they do exit with "Sun & Moon," “Last Night of the World” and “The American Dream” fixed in their brainpans.
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“Miss Saigon,” La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 6. $35-$50. (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310 or www.lamiradatheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.