Red Concepción, center, and the company perform “American Dream” in the North American tour of “Miss Saigon.” (Courtesy Matthew Murphy)

Nothing lands in ‘Miss Saigon’ including the helicopter

Slickly produced and soullessly executed, “Miss Saigon” has constructed her helipad at the Orpheum Theatre.

The 43-member cast, including five moppets sharing the role of the title character’s son Tam, sings loudly and dances with gusto.

Unfortunately, no amount of pumping up the volume — done much too often and to the detriment of the Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. lyrics, the singers and the audience — can vacate the fact that the production is emotionally vacant at best. (The music is by Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg.)

Director Laurence Conner seems to equate stridency with feelings, quashing all opportunity for subtlety, nuance or pathos.

He also seems to lean heavily on the story’s operatic ancestry — the tale of a Vietnamese woman betrayed by an American soldier in the Vietnam War is based on Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” — directing much of the show down front, center stage and sung straight out to the audience.

None of the principals seem to genuinely inhabit their roles. As Kim, ostensibly the title character, Emily Bautista is overly shrill in tone and temper, undercutting any legitimacy to the struck-by-lightning love expressed by Chris (Anthony Festa) when they meet. She’s also angry. A lot. It’s not unjustified given her circumstances, but the lack of variety in her performance sets up an empathy roadblock to her real tragedy and sacrifice down the line.

Ballsy hooker Gigi (Christine Bunuan) begins “The Movie in My Mind” with all her emotional guns drawn, belying the song’s description of the intimate psychic retreat the girls use to protect themselves mentally while they are being abused physically.

It’s certainly a slutty production. That may seem an odd observation of a musical populated with whores and pimps, but the frequency of the crotch grabbing and grinding quickly felt gratuitous along with Festa’s conspicuously spotlit half-moon as Chris and Kim couple for the first time.

There are some blessings, like the moppet moments, and Stacie Bono, as the betrayed wife Ellen, becomes a living, beating heart of conflict, compassion and doubt, but enters far too late to save the proceedings or the production.

Red Concepción, a whiny and generally menace-free Engineer despite all the distracting knife twirling, redeems himself with full-throttle delivery on the guaranteed crowd-pleaser “The American Dream.”

That sequence is the cherry on the sundae of dynamic choreography and staging by the redoubtable Bob Avian. With an extremely talented corps de ensemble, he creates the show’s best moments in “Dream,” a military parade and the Saigon and Bangkok nightclub scenes.

The core of the story is the power and the price of love; no amount of spectacle can replace that. There’s lots of spectacle here, but when the helicopter landing in “Miss Saigon” generates no applause, it’s clear not much else is landing either.

REVIEW
Miss Saigon
Where: SHN’s Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 4
Tickets: $56 to $226
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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