Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra – or CATS – stages just one show per year, and it’s always a lavish effort with an Asian theme. For this year’s 20th anniversary production, the Nevada City based company has chosen the popular, Vietnam War-inspired musical “Miss Saigon.”
When “Miss Saigon” was a Broadway sensation in 1989, it was a special effects extravaganza, including a realistic helicopter rising from the stage as the Americans evacuated South VIetnam.
In recent years on smaller stages, the show’s emphasis has shifted from stage technology to storytelling, The helicopter is now implied by noise and lights, while the central love story – a doomed relationship between an American soldier and a Vietnamese bar girl – takes on added importance.
This production benefits from the sparks that fly between the actors playing the lovers, making the swift romance credible. Actress April Lam, who trained in musical theater at UCLA, is particularly good, acting with conviction and singing well.
The show hasn’t been rewritten, but this production emphasizes the perspective and struggles of the Vietnamese. Professional actor Jared Lee stands out as a conniving entrepreneur known as the Engineer, who peddles the services of young women in skimpy outfits to military men.
Engineer: It's like the old days, my little gamines
Girls: Oh sure!
Engineer: You know who's out here? A gang of Marines!
Girls: They're here?
Engineer: We'll pick 'em clean, that's what this contest's about
Girls: Yes, sir!
Engineer: One of these boys might be your ticket out.
Why is she in that dress? Ah! It's my new princess Ah, yes! A bride will give the guys a treat.
The Engineer is c-r-e-e-p-y, but Lee’s twitchy performance makes him compulsively watchable.
This is the 17th year I’ve trekked to Nevada City to review the annual show by CATS. I’m always impressed by the way they take on new challenges and succeed, year after year. If you’ve never seen their work, this strong production of “Miss Saigon” is a good place to start.
"Miss Saigon," presented by Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, continues at the Nevada City Theatre Through May 10th.