“Miss Saigon” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – September 25, 2019


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

The touring production of the recent Broadway revival of “Miss Saigon” at ASU Gammage is decent but the 1989 musical based on Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” has not stood the test of time.  The now clichéd story of Kim, a Vietnamese woman who gets wooed by the corrupt Engineer into a shoddy life of pleasing U.S. soldiers is overly melodramatic.  Her first conquest, Chris, leaves her with child.  She struggles to keep herself and her son, Tam, respectable.  When Chris learns of Kim’s child, he and his wife return to Vietnam to bring her son to the U. S.

When it premiered in London and was later a Broadway triumph, a discussion of racially integrated marriages was more revolutionary than it is today.  So the story is now bland and not unique.  Musical theater has come so far since “Miss Saigon” debuted.

So one wonders why such huge resources were poured into this revival when many other far richer works cry out for rebirths.  The show had mixed success on Broadway but when road shows are mounted, familiar titles often outweigh more penetrating but unknown works.

The tour is populated with talented performers who sing the score impressively and present the predictable story with a furor that almost makes you believe you are witnessing the best Broadway can deliver. Emily Bautista’s strong-willed but nurturing Kim is operatically sung and touchingly acted.  Anthony Festa is the stalwart soldier Chris who also sings reverently.  Only Red Conception’s Engineer, while appropriately slimy, can’t always be understood. The ensemble is poised and polished but the new production design isn’t nearly as grand as the original.  The famous helicopter still swoops in and departs with dashing spectacle.

But several things tainted the opening night and all were the fault of ASU Gammage which is a pale local symbol for a real Broadway theater.  The vast caverns of the auditorium do not give the show the intimacy it demands.  The problematic sound was an issue in a venue designed as a concert hall but forced to house musicals.

But most distressing was the announced opening night performance time of 7:30 but the show didn’t start until 8:10, making the already long show run way too late.  ASU Gammage staff attributed the late curtain to tardy delivery of the show from Los Angeles.  No audience should have to wait 40 minutes for a show when they are stuck in unpleasant lobbies until the theater opened well after the posted curtain time.  Don’t be surprised if these chronically late opening night curtains continue throughout the coming season.

“Miss Saigon” continues through Sunday, September 29 at ASU Gammage.  For any remaining tickets, contact Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Grade: C

3 Responses to ““Miss Saigon” – ASU Gammage”

  1. Rex Morris said:

    Sep 27, 19 at 16:07

    It would be most refreshing if for once this critic could refrain from the usual repetitive complaints about Gammage. If he had actually attended so many performances in New York he would find that Gammage is as good a Broadway Theatre around (been there, done it). As for this being an outdated musical, I have found many “outdated musicals” to be superior to modern day works. As for delays, stuff happens. Maybe this critic could have pitched in to help unload and get things going.

  2. Christine Campbell said:

    Sep 29, 19 at 20:25

    I have read or heard many of your reviews in the past and I think I have held my tongue long enough. I don’t know what ax you have to grind with Gammage, but just stop. It is reaching heights of being pathetic.

    Since you seem to believe so highly in your skills as a critic, let me share some thoughts with you. Perhaps a musical that involves a helicopter and Cadillac onstage (at separate times) needs to be in a space slightly larger than TCA (or whatever theatre you think is suitably intimate). And to suggest that there will be a whole season of overly late curtains is also ridiculous. I have been in attendance at shows at Gammage for opening night for YEARS! This is the first time a situation like this has occurred. But of course it must be Gammage’s fault, not the company’s. Since you have degrees in theatre administration, I am forced to believe that you want to lead Gammage, but didn’t get the job. Unless there’s another theory I should entertain about your obsession with size?

    As for the musical still being relevant, I find it a shame that you can’t see connections between the story of a mother doing her all to give her child a good life and the current immigration complications this country is facing. I’m not surprised of course. Deep insight doesn’t seem to be your thing. Just weak attempts at sarcasm and wit.

    I’m sure you will delete this comment, but it would be remarkable if you actually paid some slight attention to it and perhaps considered that there is some validity to my response.

  3. Chris Curcio said:

    Oct 06, 19 at 13:44

    The comment below about my review of “Miss Saigon” at ASU Gammage is most interesting.

    Yes, I continue to complain about ASU Gammage as it is NOT a space that was designed to house touring versions of Broadway musicals. It was designed as a concert hall and no matter how much money is spent to “remodel” the facility into one appropriate for Broadway musicals, it can never be retrofitted into a Broadway theater. If this commentator is content that Broadway shows must be housed at ASU Gammage that is fine. First of all, TCA is NOT an appropriate space for touring Broadway musicals and to even suggest such a scenario is ridiculous. All spaces at the TCA are not big enough to support a touring Broadway musical nor are the backstage areas at TCA big enough for a touring Broadway show.

    There is one facility in town that has sufficient space to house a touring Broadway show and that is Phoenix Symphony Hall which many years ago used to be the place in town that touring Broadway shows played. Unfortunately this acoustically fine hall is so heavily booked by the Phoenix Symphony, Ballet Arizona, and the Arizona Opera that there is no time available to house touring Broadway shows except for a few weeks during the summer. The other downtown Phoenix theaters are not appropriate for Broadway shows including the too small Orpheum Theatre and the acoustically appalling fiasco with a stage too hard for any stage production that the city built that only works for boxing matches. It has had several titles depending upon who is willing to spend money to put their name on the terrible facility. It may be the only large theater in the Phoenix area that is worse than ASU Gammage and even this facility was tried by ASU Gammage management to house the touring Radio City Music Hall Christmas show. That lasted a few seasons and then abruptly stopped.

    So what does this terrible situation mean for Phoenix. A rich person or corporate entities need to contribute sufficient money to build a 2,750 to 3,000 seat theater with great acoustics for Broadway shows and enough backstage room and equipment to adequately house touring Broadway shows. It would also be nice if it could restrict the capacity when a touring play comes to town.

    Or we can continue to get Broadway tours at ASU Gammage which is NOTHING like any Broadway theater. No Broadway theater is bigger than 1,750 seats and all have excellent acoustics for plays and musicals where sound professionals insure that every word can be heard. Remember also that since ASU Gammage was designed as a concert hall, not all seats have an adequate view of the stage a requirement for any theater housing Broadway shows. My “Miss Saigon” seats were on the extreme side and I was unable to see the entire stage so I missed seeing some scenery since the sight lines were so dreadful from my seats.

    As to “Miss Saigon,” yes, the story is a touching one about the effects of a heavy number of Americans in Vietnam during the war that fathered many children with native residents. While this is a valid purpose, that war is now history and the effects are well known. There are far more relevant shows from the American musical theater canon that are worthy of revival besides “Miss Saigon” which served a purpose when it premiered many seasons ago.

    As I said in my review, the production of “Miss Saigon” was first-rate; I just felt that the huge amount of resources both financial and production wise would have been better spent on a more relevant or entertaining show. Also remember that ASU Gammage charges the most for tickets of any local theater and in many cases their “demand pricing” jacks ticket prices up to almost the same as Broadway where many discount tickets are available and that is not the case at ASU Gammage.

    And while we are commenting on ASU Gammage Broadway shows perhaps we should also mention that Phoenix remains the largest city in the nation that still gets Broadway tours for just one week runs something even a much smaller city like Tucson also gets. Why hasn’t ASU Gammage expanded the Broadway season to two or three weeks to meet local demand for tickets. If you don’t buy a season ticket to the ASU Gammage Broadway musicals, it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a ticket to see a show unless it is the rare show that plays more than one week. Perhaps this is laziness on the part of ASU Gammage management because maybe the huge staff would actually have to work to sell an additional week or two of Broadway shows.

    And remember that it is NOT ASU Gammage management that books the local Broadway season. It is Broadway Across America that books the local season. Oh, it is easy to criticize and it is easy to stop reiterating the same things over and over but if we just shut up and stop complaining nothing will change. There are other criticisms that could be leveled at the local Broadway season but I don’t want to upset the local theatergoers willing to accept all the issues and problems and who do NOT strive for improvements.