Sunday, December 04, 2016

Miss Saigon: 25th Anniversary Performance (Brett Sullivan, 2016)

Miss Saigon: 25th Anniversary Performance is a feel-good Pinoy pride movie. Composed mostly of footages taken during the 25th Anniversary Gala show of Miss Saigon, the filmed play showcases to great detail the extraordinary artistry of performers with Filipino blood.

The first highlight goes to Rachel Ann Go portraying the reigning Miss Saigon, Gigi. The song ‘The Movie in My Mind’ tells of Gigi’s dream of a better future. She is tired of servicing soldiers who screw like boys. Her highly expressive face is shown clearly in several close-up shots.

A major advantage of film is it can focus on a certain performer or give a better view of facial expression. I’ve seen the musical Miss Saigon in its Manila run at the Cultural Center of the Philippines a long time ago. I was seated way up high at the Balcony section and can barely see the faces of the performers. The visual treats that stuck with me then were the mammoth scenes such as the Helicopter evacuation scene and the fall of Saigon parade. I heard the songs but I didn’t see/feel the performances.

The filmed musical Miss Saigon, about star-crossed lovers caught up in the Vietnam war, levels the playing field. The audience gets to see the performers’ emotive faces up close. The downside to a filmed play is when the cinema audience claps in appreciation it is a one-way gesture. There’s no sharing of love.

The crowd favorite Jon Jon Briones is stunning as an opportunistic manager of a girlie bar in Vietnam. Briones, being an Oriental, fits the role of the Engineer. The Engineer’s deep yearning for the American way of life is seen during 'The American Dream’ scene. Here, Briones pants like a dog. The Engineer’s huge ambition overwhelms his small stature.

Jonathan Pryce is a good actor but the Engineer is really a Vietnamese. Well, Pryce might have put up a great performance as an Engineer that the audience simply ignored his white skin.

The US-born Fil-Am actress, Eva Noblezada, evokes empathy with her innocent, gentle voice as Kim. There's a tinge of vulnerability in her that makes men take notice and care for her.

The first Act is packed with amazing musical highlights. However, there's an early small scene that made me believe in the filmed concept. A notable scene shows a saxophone player showered with cocaine powder. As the white dust settle on the shimmery sax, the player is egged to hit the ‘high note.’ This is a case where the filmed scene is an improvement on the theatre scene. Without the white dust, the ‘high note’ phrase is a mere musical term and not a druggie term.

A major bonus of the film is a 35 minute show featuring stars of the original cast, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Bowman, and Lea Salonga.

Rachel Ann Go reprises the 'Movie in My Mind' song this time with the original Kim, Lea Salonga. She is really a fantastic singer. The filmed version of the song, while stunning, sees Rachel Ann Go singing in a mix of live performance and subsequent filmed close-up footages. Yes, there are lots of sleight of hand editing wizardry done in the filmed version. However, the gala performance of Go with Salonga shows pure Filipino singing talents at their finest. There is no take two for the two wonderful ladies.

My main complaint with the filmed version of Miss Saigon is the fuzzy texture of the film. It is not as clear as the filmed version of the 25th anniversary show of Phantom of the Opera. But, even though it is not in high definition, I'm thankful to relive the musical Miss Saigon on a theater widescreen.

Searching for a Christmas present for the theater fan? Look no further. A Blu-ray or DVD version of the filmed version of Miss Saigon is the perfect gift.

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