CATS’ production of Miss Saigon in the foothills is a “must see” show

The Vietnam War was a prolonged, horrific and unpopular war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed, 60,000 U.S. soldiers died and 150,000 were wounded. The war created lifelong nightmares for the surviving soldiers and others.

We all have our own personal memories: As a youth, mine includes the stark photo of a young girl running away from her just-napalmed village, or a Viet Cong prisoner being shot at point-blank range in the streets of Saigon. Our telex operator at Time magazine in ’82 was a Vietnam refugee whom the war correspondent brought home during the fall of Saigon. The same year, I was among the first Americans to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Children of the dust”

Along with the soldiers, the children of the Vietnam war also were long suffering. “They grew up as the leftovers of an unpopular war, straddling two worlds but belonging to neither,” as Smithsonian Magazine reminds us. “Neither America nor Vietnam wanted the kids known as Amerasians and commonly dismissed by the Vietnamese as ‘children of the dust’ — as insignificant as a spec to be brushed aside.”

Miss Saigon is a Tony-award winning musical about the turmoil of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, including a child born to an American soldier (Chris) and Vietnamise girl (Kim). The American G.I. sergeant and the 17-year-old bar girl fall in love, only to be separated by the fall of Saigon. Their struggles to find each other over the ensuing years end in tragedy for her and a fighting chance for a child he never knew was his.

This May, Miss Saigon is returning to the stage in London to celebrate its 25th anniversary, where it premiered on September 20, 1989. The musical, from the creators of Les Misérables, is loosely based on the classic opera Madama Butterfly.

Epic musical “Miss Saigon” now playing in foothills

Now, for the first time, the Broadway musical has come to the Sierra Foothills. It is being presented from April 10-May 10 at the historic Nevada Theatre in Nevada City. We attended the gala performance, and we highly recommend you go see it.

The show is presented by Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra to celebrate their 20th anniversary, with local, regional and Bay Area talent. Miss Saigon is a complex production, described as “jaw dropping” when it premiered on Broadway in 1991.

We’re pleased to report the local production succeeded on all fronts: A vocally strong cast, some stunning individual performances, a wonderful orchestra, clever theatrical technology, imaginative costumes and a well-designed stage. Some highlights:

Highlights of the local production

•Kim is played by April Lam, a recent graduate from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles. She has a fantastic voice. One of the most memorable scenes is when Kim shows her love for Chris and her son in “I’d give my life for you.” (The musical’s ending is enormously poignant).

•Chris is played by David Holmes, who has been performing in the greater Sacramento area for more than 20 years. In the song “Confrontation” with Ellen (Chris’ American wife) and Chris, he sings: “Saigon was crazed, but she was real. And for one moment I could feel.” It is a dramatic highlight.

•John (Chris’ friend and also a G.I.) is played by Jay Barker, who has performed for LeGacy Productions and Quest Theaterworks. His performance at the beginning of Act 2 in “Bui Doi” is highly memorable. It includes an emotional film montage of Amerasian children who were fathered and abandoned by departed Americans.

•Engineer (Kim’s pimp) is played by Jared Lee, who returns to CATS after playing the title role in The King and I. Jared’s performance is vibrant and entertaining. His performance in singing “The American Dream” is a highlight of the show.

•The theatrical technology includes the realistic sound of a helicopter coming into the Nevada Theatre during the fall of Saigon, complete with strobe lights. The left side of the aisle is filled with commotion from the actors, adding to the drama.

•High praise goes to the staff and crew for the production of set construction and lightening. The costumes of the black-clad Viet Kong warriors were well done, evoking an erie scene.

•The orchestra, with woodwind, brass and keyboard instruments, was first rate.

The musical is two hours long with a 15-minute intermission. CATS production of Miss Saigon is directed by Susan Mason, with musical direction by Susan and Jeffrey Mason.

For tickets and information on events, visit CatsWeb.org.

(Photos: David Wong)

Here’s a preview of the 25th anniversary production of Miss Saigon in London:

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