The Players successfully tackle a demanding show—as their director makes an unexpected exit.
By Kay Kipling
It would be pretty hard to miss the irony in this scenario: Community theater tackles large-scale, Tony Award-winning show, opens to enthusiastic applause, artistic director in charge of the piece is…fired?
That’s what happened the other night with the Players of Sarasota, Miss Saigon, and departing director Burton Wolfe, when the Players board voted not to renew his contract just hours before the curtain rose. I’m not privy to the reasons behind the board’s decision, and this isn’t the place to explore that, anyway. In the past, I haven’t always admired Wolfe’s direction. But give credit where it’s due: For a community theater like the Players, this production of Miss Saigon is quite an impressive achievement.
It isn’t perfect. One of the secondary leads hasn’t much experience singing, and it shows at times when tackling the demanding operatic score. And, not surprisingly for a community of this size and ethnic makeup, there aren’t as many Asians in the cast as one would like.
But from the moment the play opens with The Heat Is On in Saigon, the show has a strong, driving, emotional force behind it. As is often the case in Sarasota, when a challenging, seldom-done musical is performed here, it brings out some of the best actors and singers in the area—people with professional talent and credits who just want to be part of the experience. The challenge also brings out the best in people without professional training as they reach for new personal heights.
Especially noteworthy here: the two romantic leads, G.I. Chris (Alex Yepremian) and his Vietnamese love, Kim (Jazmine Giovanni), who play both their happy and their tragic moments together with heart and blend well vocally on their duets; and Cliff Cespedes as the Engineer (he alternates the role with Steven Dragon), who slithers through his role with a good seriocomic mixture of sleaze and survivor’s instinct. Other players have affecting moments as well: Charles McKenzie on Bui-Doi, a touching song about American-Vietnamese children; Rachael DiGiulio on Now That I’ve Seen Her, as the woman Chris marries when he fears he’s lost Kim forever; and Teresa Bieber as bar girl Gigi, setting the right wistful tone on The Movie in my Mind.
Miss Saigon is also highlighted by some nicely balanced choreography by Leymis Bolanos Wilmott, striking martial arts work by performers from Tiger Hwa Rang Do Academy; and an unusually powerful ensemble. Those who might have worried about the Players’ ability to handle the technical aspects of this show can breathe easy: The helicopter scene works. But the real strength of Miss Saigon is the human story, one that’s been repeated countless times throughout history. It’s both unique and universal.
Miss Saigon is scheduled to run through Jan. 28; for ticket info call 365-2494 or go to www.theplayers.org.