Culture and Heritage, Preview, Theatre, Youth

‘Miss Saigon’ Touches Down at the Vintage Theatre

A Preview, by Marc Shulgold

So, how do you squeeze a giant Broadway hit show into an itty-bitty theater in Aurora? Simple – just make some cuts in the ceiling.

That’s what Vintage Theatre’s production team had to do, in order to accommodate the iconic helicopter for their upcoming staging of Miss Saigon.

“We had to cut into the grid, so it could fit,” said the show’s director, Rebecca Joseph. Because the intimate venue has no fly space above the stage, concealing the helicopter required some expansion. OK, so it’s not a complete whirlybird – it’s just the front of it. Still, the prop, on loan from the Arvada Center, is nearly six feet tall and four feet wide. And it holds a passenger.

“It’s a dummy,” Joseph corrected. “We named him Harold.”

Naturally, there’s a lot more to the Claude-Michel Schönberg/Alain Boublil updating of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly than a whirling aircraft – even though its entrance always thrills audiences. “This is really an opera,” the director said. And a big one at that.

“Personally, I would never have pitched (staging) Miss Saigon,” she admitted. “I mean, in that tiny space? And it’s a hard show to do. There’s lots of ethnic casting, and you need really good talent.”

Rebecca Joseph, Director of Miss Saigon

Rebecca Joseph, Director of Miss Saigon

Tackling this production was the idea of Vintage’s artistic director and co-founder Craig Bond. “He’s a huge dreamer – and I mean that in the best sense of the word,” she said. “No project is too big for him.” In fact, Bond was originally set to direct, but instead handed the job to Joseph.

Her orchestra numbers 12 (led by Blake Nawa’a), and she’s assembled a cast of 23 – including a trio of tykes alternating as the love child, Tam. “The kids are 3, 4 and 8,” she noted, “but they’re all the same size.” Mindful of the story’s Vietnam locale, the director sent out audition notices to several Asian organizations. But it was the key role of Kim where she focused her energies.

Luck was on her side.

Joseph learned about the talents of a local Filipino equity actor named Regina Fernandez Steffan through cast member Arlene Rapal (who, in a daring bit of casting, plays the traditionally male role of the Engineer, owner of the “Dreamland” bar). “They both work at Kaiser,” Joseph said of the two women. When Steffan auditioned, everyone was instantly blown away. 

Regina Fernandez Steffan in Vintage Theatre's Miss Saigon

Rob Riney and Regina Fernandez Steffan in Vintage Theatre’s Miss Saigon

Even before rehearsals began in October, the cast went on a field trip. “The first thing I did was take them to a screening of Last Days in Vietnam, just so they could get a good feel for the setting. My intent was always to stay true to the story. This is a harsh interpretation – almost an R-rating.”

There’s no nudity here, but plenty of skin and a good dose of violence. “My (directorial) touches,” Joseph explained, “were in pushing the actors into a hard world.”

Putting such a huge show onto such a small stage has been an exciting learning experience for Joseph, a graduate of the Denver School of the Arts who cut her theatrical teeth by studying and working in London. “You try to get a balance between being a dictator and a diplomat.

“One thing’s for sure – you grow with every show you do,” she said, adding that most of her previous work in the theater was as a stage manager. “I’m not an actor,” Joseph said with a laugh. Actually, by day, she’s an accountant at the roofing/insulation company Johns Manville.

Resisting the temptation to re-create earlier productions of Miss Saigon, Joseph relied on her own instincts and a desire to bring out all the dark tragedy in the tale– and, yes, as much of the original’s spectacular special effects as possible.

“At Vintage, we excel at doing a non-smoke-and-mirrors production.,” she said. Then, referring to the fog machine she borrowed from Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center, she added with a chuckle, “Well, there will be smoke in this show.”

Vintage Theatre’s production of  Miss Saigon opens Friday, December 5 and continues through February 1, 2015 at Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., Aurora. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. with additional performances Saturday January 11 and 31 at 2:30 p.m.; Monday, December 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, January 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $31 and $26, available online at www.vintagetheatre,com or by calling 303-856-7830.

Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon

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