STAGE REVIEW: 'Miss Saigon' at Kelsey Theatre

  • By Stuart Duncan

  • Sep 14, 2016

The current production of “Miss Saigon” by Pinnworth Productions at Kelsey Theatre on the campus of Mercer County Community College in West Windsor is not only a poignant look at the Vietnam War, it is one of the most thrillingly complex and challenging shows in years. It is also one of the most successful and satisfying productions in many years.

   Created by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. with additional lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., the same team that gave us “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon” the story of men who fought wars they didn’t exactly understand, and the women and children they left behind. Specifically, it was based on a photo Mr. Schonberg saw of a Vietnamese mother leaving her small child at an air base departure gate so that the youngster could be taken to America by his GI father. This is an adaptation of a tale told many times, perhaps most notably by John Luther Long in a late 19th-century story that became the basis for Puccini’s opera, “Madama Butterfly.”

   The show bounces back and forth between local bars visited by American servicemen and the bedrooms where the soldiers find relief. The bistros are run by a man they call “the Engineer.” The Vietcong are expected to overrun the city soon and the tension is electric.

   The show demands a huge cast (almost three dozen, and countless backstage help as well). Director LouJ Stalsworth is a veteran of local shows and his philosophy has always been to find the best available people and let them do their work.

   That is a kind of genius, and for this show Mr. Stalsworth had to collaborate with a lot of talented people. He starts with his wife, Kate Pinner, who handles the sets and costumes. A great choice since she is a graduate in theater design from the Yale School of Drama, teaches at MCCC, and has won dozens of awards.

   Koren Zander (KZ to his friends) is working on his 16th production of “Miss Saigon,” this time as co-director and choreographer. There’s a ton of choreography here, mostly of a military type; and Mr. Zander has it firmly in control. The lighting, and it is sensational, is in the hands of Robert Terrano, who began lighting shows in 1972 and has worked on more than 80 shows.

   There are a lot of obstacles to this show in regard to technical challenged. For one, there’s the helicopter, for another there’s there huge luxury car, and then there’s the cast off 33, and many costume changes.

   And what a cast: It is led by “The Engineer,” Michael Schuimo, a man destined to play the role and a veteran of big roles throughout his local history. And of course, there’s the doomed couple: Lianah Sta. Ana as 17-year-old Kim (Ms. Ana is actually 17 and a senior in high school), and Michael Scibilia as Chris. Both are super-talented singers and actors. You also will be knocked by the performances of Kyrus Keenan Westcott as John, Chris’ best friend and Tressa McCallister-Scibilia in the sometimes unsympathetic role of Ellen, Chris’ wife.

   ”Miss Saigon” is PinnWorth Productions’ biggest show, and it may be the largest show in Kelsey’s history. Opening night was absolutely packed to standing room. I suggest you call immediately and get tickets You won’t get many chances to see a production like this.

“Miss Saigon” continues at Kelsey Theatre on the campus of Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, through Sept. 25. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. Tickets cost $20; www.kelseytheatre.net; 609-570-333

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