FORT WORTH You may get carried away by Casa Mañanas production of the long-running Broadway smash Miss Saigon, which opened Saturday.
Just dont expect that ride to be in a helicopter.
A superb cast polishes every note of the score of this musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg, which goes back to the bad old days of the Vietnam War with a plot based very loosely on Puccinis bitterly anti-American opera, Madame Butterfly.
Puccinis ugly American naval officer Pinkerton becomes the highly caring and sympathetic Marine, Chris (Daniel Rowan) in this updating. Sweet little Cho-Cho-San arrives as the reluctant Saigon hooker, Kim (Jennifer Paz). Their love affair is complicated not only by the war, but also by the manipulations of the scheming pimp known as The Engineer (Joseph Anthony Foronda) and Thuy (Marc delaCruz), a rising Communist Party wonk who has been promised Kims hand in marriage. And if you know the source opera at all, you know that none of this turns out well.
This production, which is extremely well-supported by a pit orchestra lead by musical director Edward G. Robinson, features a cast full of great singers. Rowan, a North Texas native, is especially powerful. His performance is beautifully complemented by Paz, who sang her role in the national touring production of this show. And nearly all the supporting players, especially delaCruz and Kent Overshown (as Chris Marine buddy, John), come through as strong as the leads did.
The best acting job comes from Foronda, who had the daunting task of playing the role on Broadway when the memory of Jonathan Pryces performances were still fresh in audiences minds. He completely disappears into his oily part, playing the desperation of his character as if it were a fiddle.
Director and choreographer Tim Bennett (whose most recent directing job at Casa was, interestingly, Rent, another show based on a Puccini opera, La Boheme), does a fine job of presenting the shows musical numbers. Miss Saigon is essentially an opera unto itself, and Bennett treats it like one. Perhaps to a fault.
This production focuses so intently on the musical side that it might as well be a concert staging of the work. The production design, by Chris Norville, is minimal in the extreme. And the famous helicopter landing scene the moment for which this show is best-known is a complete no-show. There are some sound effects, some lights and some smoke. But nothing resembling a copter.
So if you can avoid falling into the enormous hole where this shows look ought to be, the production does offer some rewards. But these outstanding performances would shine much brighter if they were framed by some supporting theatrics.