Edelman: ‘Miss Saigon’ Shines @ Starlight as Denton Yockey’s Last Stand

Bob Compton Photography

Bob Compton Photography

War and its tragic, unintended consequences get a compelling appraisal at MISS SAIGON, the finale of Starlight Theatre’s 2013 Broadway musical season (now thru Friday at the outdoor venue in Swope Park)…

I hope our President and the “let’s get Syria” Beltway Boys give it a listen.

In a fine production– the last from Starlight Executive Producer Denton Yockey, I’m afraid– the lessons of Vietnam come back to haunt us in this SAIGON. It’s not your granny’s summer musical, but– like all great theater– it’s got some important meat on its entertaining bones.

The Schonberg-Boublil (the guys who wrote LES MIZ)  Tony Award winning Best Musical caused a stir when it first played Broadway, racking up impressive sales and sparking controversy when original producer Cameron Mackintosh cast English actor Jonathan Pryce in the role of the Asian Engineer. That kurfluffle seems like ancient history now. What still works is the trenchant tale of a young Vietnamese girl who falls in love with an American soldier amidst the chaos of the 1975 fall of Saigon.

Bob Compton Photography

Bob Compton Photography

Manna Nichols is a lovely, touching Kim, full of the innocent power of young love and new motherhood that drives this tale to its sad conclusion. As her dog-tagged beau Chris, Charlie Brady came off a little wishy-washy, though he knows his way around the many power ballads the SAIGON score offers.

In the key role of the Engineer, Orville Mendoza takes a nice turn– though that huge Starlight stage undermines some of his meatier moments, including The American Dream, the show-stopping 11 o’clock number that never got up to full steam last night. He carries off the simpering, slithery side of the character with aplomb, though; you don’t want to meet this guy in an alley with five hundred bucks in your wallet.

The sound at Starlight was great; and, thanks to Mother Nature, it was dark enough by the 8 o’clock curtain that you could actually see Kirk Bookman‘s provocative lighting. Costumes were first rate, though the touring set seemed a little timid on that big stage. But that’s a small quibble for a show about living, breathing characters caught up in the heartlessness of war.

Bob Compton Photography

Bob Compton Photography

All in all, producer Denton Yockey did another first class job mounting MISS SAIGON (the show’s even touring to four other cities, which is a nice feather in the cap –and possibly a first– for Starlight).

Not sure why he’s moving on, but Kansas City loses one of its most experienced theatrical producers in the process. I’ll remember his ANYTHING GOES at Starlight and AIDA at the Kauffman as some of the best local work I’ve seen on a big stage. And his first season of kid-friendly musicals at the K was pretty great, too.

Hope the sinecures in Swope Park find someone as talented and knowledgeable as Mr Yockey.

 

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