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A collection of original short essays, reviews, and autobiographical anecdotes written by your one-and-only Problematic Fave™, Tooky Kavanagh.

Miss Saigon Review, June 2019

Back in June, my fiancé (I’ll address this later, I promise) and I saw Broadway classic Miss Saigon at the Boston Opera House. I refuse to call this historic venue whatever the hell bank-sponsored name it goes by now.

Here’s my wildly problematic and likely offensive review.

The first half of Act I moved too slowly for my taste. I found it a tad heavy-handed with the whole “manly Americans in a seedy bordello” trope. Then again, this musical premiered in 1989, the same year Roadhouse debuted in theaters. It’s all we knew at the time.

Act I Scene II immediately roped me in with “Morning of The Dragon.” I describe it as watching an excerpt from an informationally dense Ken Burns documentary set to the choreography of Bob Fosse and the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber if he had restraint. One of my favorite moments.

I was really impressed by how well-casted (read: racially accurate) this show was, at least for this iteration of its revival. In the original run, the character of The Engineer was portrayed by a white guy and he won a Tony for it. He walked so Scarlett Johansson could run.

Quick tangent: Of course, this show’s casting pales in comparison to a showing of Pacific Overtures we saw at Boston’s Lyric Stage Co. Have you heard of Pacific Overtures? It’s a two-and-a-half-hour-long Stephen Sondheim kabuki-adjacent passion project that crams the ENTIRE history of 1850s Shogun-Era Japan’s long struggle with westernization. I would’ve enjoyed it more if Sondheim didn’t Sondheim all over it. I feel like only folks who studied theater would get what I mean if I say Sondheim Sondheimed all over something. Pacific Overtures’ score uses a Japanese-esque scale of parallel 4ths and no leading tones, but you can’t escape Sondheim’s signature cha-cha-cha rhythms in this thing.

My undergrad theater professor would probably murder me if she ever saw this review. She’s very culturally Jewish but converted to the Church of Sondheim in 1986 and never looked back. Hi, M******!

Anyway, back to my main point. Including the portrayal of American soldiers, I really appreciated that they didn’t whitewash this cast. The actor who played John was a sturdily-built chocolate man with a velvety baritone. He did an excellent job of making me hate and love him. Without spoiling anything, Act I ended with the protagonist, Kim, essentially telling her antagonist cousin “Don’t ever talk to me or me son again!” and I cackled in my balcony seat.

Act II Scene I immediately addressed the fact that all your granddads who fought in ‘Nam did some disgusting sh*t. In the US, the term “Bui Doi” was misappropriated to mean soldiers’ neglected/abandoned Amerasian offspring. I’m glad they broached the topic because BIG YIKES.

Here’s a brief summary of my reactions to some highlights in Act II Scene II:

• Oh snap, a sexy ghost!

• How the F*CK did they get a whole-ass helicopter into the theater?!

• I know this is set in the 70s but the brothel owner in Bangkok is dressed like Thai Dolemite.

Another important moment in Act II was the song “Room 317,” when the American soldier’s two wives meet. I truly wonder if this show inspired legendary 90s R&B producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins to write Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine.” Darkchild loves musical theater.

Now let’s talk about the biggest, grandest, most SPECTACULAR number in the whole show, “The American Dream,” (the penultimate song) which, despite its sad undertone since it’s a dream that won’t come to fruition, was my favorite. The grammar in that last sentence is in shambles.

There were dancers in feathers, streamers, confetti, bright and bedazzled suits, and legs for centuries! I knew that the moment The Engineer humped a Cadillac, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein rolled over in their graves and I was HERE for it!

Overall, I wasn’t WOWed, but thoroughly entertained nonetheless. For a revival, it still felt somewhat stuck in 1989. And you can kinda tell it’s Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil’s underachieving younger progeny to their golden child, Les Misérables. But all in all, 4 stars.

My views are terrible so don’t go on my word alone. But definitely see this show for yourself when the tour hits your city. Support the arts dammit!!! Love u. K bye.

Tooky Kavanagh