Highly Recommended **** In its short time as a “regional theater” the Paramount in Aurora has proven time and again that the talent in the Chicagoland area is far above that of any other major city. In this year’s season, Artistic Directo Jim Corti has brought a fine tuned, masterful production of Tony Award winner “Miss Saigon” ( music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Richard Maltby,Jr. and Alain Boublil- the creators of “Les Miserables”-based on the story of “Madame Butterfy”) to the beautiful Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora ( which by the way is the second largest city in Illinois) “Miss Saigon” is the story of a war that no one wanted to be in, Vietnam and a soldier’s falling in love with a young vietnameese bargirl at a time near the end of the war. Chris, the soldier ( deftly played by Brandon Moorhead) comes back to America and begins his new life while Kim, the barmaid ( wonderfully portrayed by Shawna Haeji Shin, who truly proves that great things come in small packages) is left behind with his child ( the adorable Zachary Uzarraga).
Chris, never knowing that Kim is alive and with his son goes on with his life, marries Ellen ( Emilie Lynn), but when made aware of the facts goes back to the new Vietnam to seek out his “other family”. There are many of these “half breed” that are the remnants of war, called “The Bui-Doi” ( the second act opens with a song, handled by the powerfil Elliot Greer, as John, Chris’s best friend during the war, that tells us about these children and their lives). War is hell and Vietnam was one that changed the lives of many. In this sparkling production, solidly directed by Mr. Corti with some beautiful choreography by Jeff Hancock ( although this is not what one would call a “dance” musical) on a set by Linda Buchanan and some great lighting effects by Jesse Klug, we are taken into the streets of Saigon and how the war played with their economy. Here is where we meet “the Engineer” ( this role is played by Joseph Anthony Foronda, who after years of playing this character continues to bring a special freshness to his character. One can see that he enjoys bringing this character to life) a man who will do anything for a dollar, but of more importance, anything to get to America to live out his “American Dream” This is one of the key musical numbers in this Musical and Corti has made it just as glamorous as previous productions with a far less glitzy set, which draws our attention to the lyrics and the skillful performance of Mr. Forondo.
The song list is filled with wonderful music as this is a true musical show. Songs like “Why God,Why”,, “I’d Give My Life For You”, “The Guilt Inside Your Head” and one after another of great story-telling making this almost an “operetta”, American Style. This is a show that also relies on the ensemble who take on the roles of soldiers, peasants, strippers, prostitutes. While ensemble members do not always get their just due, without them, a large scale production such as “Miss Saigon” could never happen. This play relies on technical aspects that I have seen done in different ways as well. There is the escape from Vietnam and the helicopter scene- in the original, what appeared to be a prop helicopter came down in view; at marriott we were drawn to the lowered ceiling above the stage and Corti’s view, we feel the helicopter without any view, well done. The glitz of the original production is not there and the projections ( another great job by Mike Tutaj) and props ( Sarah E. Ross) all add to making this 2 1/2 hours special and memorable. Shawn Stengel is the musical director , conducting his 20 talented musicians to perfection.
“Miss Saigon” will continue at The Paramount Theatre located at 33 Galena Street through November 24th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sunday at 1 and 5:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $36.90 -$49.90 and are available at the box office, by phone at 630-896-6666 or online at www.ParamountAurora.com
Valet parking is available and there is street parking as well as some lots. The downtown area is filled with restaurants as well as the riverwalk area, so make a day of it and visit Aurora.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Miss Saigon”. You will not see the words Jeff Recommended on this, as The Paramount Theatre is out of the range of the Jeff Awards, so they are not judged, thus no recognitions. Maybe, one day the Jeff Committee will change the boundaries. Until then, you can enjoy what The Paramount has to offer and rate it yourself. Worth the drive is what I say!