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'Miss Saigon' provides emotional capper to Ogunquit season

September 29, 2011
By Michael J. Tobin
Courtesy of The Portland Daily Sun

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The Ogunquit Playhouse closed its 79th season brilliantly with the epic love story, "Miss Saigon." Taking inspiration from the Puccini opera "Madame Butterfly," Ogunquit's production captures your heart and your emotions, proving once again why the Playhouse is America's foremost summer theatre.

Musical Director, Ken Clifton, has provided the best vocals of the season. To hear the ensemble sing is worth the price of admission times ten. Director Paul Dobie creates a solid foundation with many emotional layers that are well paced and action-packed. Choreographer Robert Tatad set every mood perfectly, from the smallest choreographed nuances to the well-executed dance numbers.

Jennifer Paz (Kim) and Gregg Goodbrod (Chris) set the stage ablaze with their powerful Broadway caliber performances. Paz's character arc convincingly went from virginal, shy girl to strong survivalist during the Vietnam War. Goodbrod's American soldier gave emotionally charged conflict as his life is torn apart by the war. Paz and Goodbrod's vocals blended perfectly, their solo numbers a stand-out. Goodbrod's vocals in Ellen and Chris, was a highlight. Although the script unites the two characters unbelievably fast, their performances leave no doubt of their unwavering love and self sacrifice.

Raul Aranas (Engineer) slithers into his role with triple threat talent, giving the audience a love-hate relationship that often leaves you laughing. Nik Walker (John) gave the show-stopping number of the evening with his powerhouse performance of "Bui-Doi." His fine acting, character transitions and relationships were clearly defined. Amanda Rose (Ellen) brought another show-stopping number to the stage with the conflicted, "Now That I've Seen Her." Austin Ku (Thuy) did not have the acting strength or look needed for the ferocity of his jilted role.

The ensemble was collectively outstanding and individually multi-talented. Opening number, "The Heat Is On In Saigon," was an immediate show-stopper, beautifully staged. The entire show taking your emotions hostage and staying with you long after the last note is brilliantly sung. A personal "job very well done" to my former classmate, Gary Thomas Ng, who played several roles in the ensemble.

The period costumes were provided by Costumes World, nothing wrong but nothing spectacular. Set design by Michael Anania was appropriate; however, the execution was not as tight as previous shows. The playbill states that costumes and sets had been designed and built for other theaters — and they looked it. However, the much anticipated helicopter sequence was very well done and a show-stopper. Lighting design by Richard Latta provided a professional, well-executed look, complementing each scene. Sound designer, Jeremy Oleksa, eventually found the right balance for the singers, as the seven very talented musicians played almost non-stop for three hours.

Ogunquit Playhouse provided thousands of people with a season of top-notch musicals and I will miss my monthly date with their professional productions. My unexpected favorite show was "Summer Of Love," a production that touched me (and the audience) on so many levels and proved what technical excellence truly is. Bravo Michele Lee! "Avenue Q" gave me so many laugh-out-loud moments with a super-stellar cast. "Legally Blonde" was just plain fun with the unstoppable, very talented Sally Struthers. "Music Man" was my least favorite but certainly worthy of the accolades it received.

Next season, the Playhouse celebrates 80 years. I personally hope they continue to "push the artistic envelope" when selecting their season. Shows being considered next summer include "9 to 5," "The Buddy Holly Story," "Victor/Victoria," the return of "Menopause the Musical," and several other (thankfully) not-overly-done titles.

"Miss Saigon" plays though Sunday, Oct. 23. For more information go to www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call 646-5511.

(Michael J. Tobin has been a professional actor, director, theatre administrator and educator for 30 years in theaters throughout New England and around the Country. Mr. Tobin has performed and directed in 350-plus shows Off-Broadway, National Tours, Regional Theatre, Summer Stock, Children’s Theatre and Community Theatre. Mr. Tobin lives in South Portland.)

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