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MISS SAIGON, at the Auditorium Theatre. This production has everything you’d want in a big-budget musical: huge sets and cast, a full orchestra, eye-popping stage pictures, dance numbers that go on for days. Everything, that is, except a beautiful score, believable characters, and a story compelling enough to keep your interest for two and a half hours. But who needs those things when you’ve got a show that’s both sleazy and sentimental, sermonizing and voyeuristic, pompous even as it tut-tuts pomposity?
Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s 1989 hit, a follow-up to their overblown Les Miserables, retells Puccini’s Madama Butterfly: shifting the setting from 19th-century Japan to late-20th-century Vietnam, it focuses on a Saigon prostitute who falls in love with (and gets knocked up by) an American GI. But this cloying show retains none of the original’s force, drama, or heartbreaking beauty, packed as it is with nitwit characters, predictable plot twists, and forgettable tunes.
This particular staging seems even noisier, shallower, and more annoying than the production that came through Chicago in the early 90s. Everyone is so heavily miked they might as well be lip-synching to the original cast album. And to top it off, there’s so little chemistry between the romantic leads–Will Swenson and Mika Nishida–that they actually seem repelled by each other. The publicists are saying this will be the last time Miss Saigon plays Chicago. Let’s hope they keep their word.