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Show Review: ‘Miss Saigon’ Takes Flight In Pittsburgh

Cast members Red Concepcion, Tyler Dunn and Emily Bautista appear in a scene from the national tour of “Miss Saigon.” (Photo Provided)

PITTSBURGH — The national tour of “Miss Saigon” has landed in Pittsburgh with shows continuing daily at the Benedum Center through Sunday, Feb. 9.

There are prime time performances each night, as well as matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

The Steel City stop for the new U.S. tour of the smash Broadway musical “Miss Saigon” opened Tuesday night as part of PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series.

A follow-up hit from the creators of “Les Miserable,” “Miss Saigon” received rave reviews through its runs in the West End and Broadway in the early 1990s, and again with its recent revivals at both, and with subsequent tours of the United Kingdom and the United States.

The story set in Vietnam during the 1970s tells the tale of 17-year-old Kim, a local girl living in Saigon who is caught up in the drama of trying to survive through the chaos of war.

Emily Bautista and Anthony Festa appear in a scene from the national tour of "Miss Saigon," appearing in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center through Sunday, Feb. 9. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Kim falls in the love with a U.S. soldier named Chris, who is torn away from her when he comes home to America.

The production of “Miss Saigon” is second to none. The sets and special effects are among the best you’ll see as part of a major theater tour.

The jaw-dropping sets alone may be worth the price of admission, and the blockbuster lead performance by Emily Bautista as Kim is commanding, delivering the perfect mix of vulnerability and power … along with a voice that truly soars through the theater.

Red Concepcion’s performance as the sleazy Engineer has also garnered a worthy amount of high praise, despite the fact that the character’s comic relief struggles to cut through the heaviness of the romance and serious level of weighty drama. Plus, it’s hard to root for this character. He’s a drug-abusing pimp, and regardless of his backstory, his quirkiness comes off as more creepy than cute.

Although information for the show describes it as being recommended for children ages 12 to 14 and up, I’d label the content a solid “Rated R.” It’s not for kids, or even younger teens. They don’t pull the punches on the adult themes, and the show is full of adult language, sexual references, sex trafficking and human trafficking, prostitution, drug use and some violence, including gun violence (it is set during the Vietnam War) with depictions of both a murder and a suicide.

The cast of "Miss Saigon" appears in a scene from the national tour, which is being staged in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center through Sunday, Feb. 9. (Photo by Matthew Murphy/Johan Persson)

Unfortunately, (spoiler alert) the wrong characters end up on the hot side of the gun, in my opinion. If someone in the story has to commit suicide or get murdered, it’s almost a shame that some of the more unlikable characters don’t bite the bullet. But alas, even William Shakespeare would surely be scorn if someone tried to write a Hollywood ending to one of his tragedies.

Which brings us to Chris. Anthony Festa does a fine job in the lead male role, but it also is difficult to empathize with this character. What makes it even harder is the burden he carries of being the Harlequin novel cover boy saddled with the romantic core of the story, all while chumming around with fellow platoon mate John (played masterfully by J. Daughtry) who is much, much cooler. We’re supposed to feel sorry for Chris, but what’s really sad is that out of all the characters, Chris is one who probably never even considers committing suicide.

But despite that tragedy, the spectacular visual presentation, triumphant ensemble segments and soaring vocal performances carry the show to safety out of the thumbs-down zone. A rotating cast of youngsters play the role of 3-year-old Tam. During opening night in Pittsburgh, young actor Tyler Dunn played the role with a level of cuteness that nearly stole the show.

To put it bluntly, for those who have never seen “Miss Saigon” — it’s a musical theater version of an R-Rated “chick flick,” but some of the outright weirdness of it almost helps push it toward a very solid recommendation. It’s a spectacle worth seeing.

Weekend performances of “Miss Saigon” are scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. today, Friday, Feb. 7; at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission between acts.

The cast of "Miss Saigon" appears in a scene from the national tour, which is being staged in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center through Sunday, Feb. 9. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

For tickets or more information, visit TrustArts.org, the official tour website at www.miss-saigon.com or MissSaigonUS on social media.

Red Concepcion performs in the role as The Engineer alongside members of the cast of "Miss Saigon," appearing in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center through Sunday, Feb. 9. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Emily Bautista and Jinwoo Jung appear in a scene from the national tour of "Miss Saigon," appearing in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center through Sunday, Feb. 9. (Photo Provided)

Anthony Festa and Emily Bautista appear in a scene from the national tour of "Miss Saigon," appearing in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center through Sunday, Feb. 9. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

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