Twenty years ago, the creators of Les Miserables
followed their first big success with Miss Saigon
, a reworking of American history and Italian opera whose immense popularity is even more difficult to justify. The story of Kim, a Vietnamese woman who falls in love with an American GI during the war, is as tragic as Puccini's Madame Butterfly
. Here, however, the lovebirds sing in English, so we understand every artless verse, birds awaking, hands shaking, etc. Then in Act 2, a chorus of American veterans (the GIs who groped prostitutes in Act 1) lament the children they fathered and left behind during the fall of Saigon. Faces of Amer-Asian children are projected as they sing sanctimoniously, "They are the reminder of the good we failed to do." (The audience applauded fiercely.) As Kim and her lover Chris, Angela Manlove (flawless in Civic's West Side Story
) and John Sparkman have the range and the power, but lack nuance. Music Director Deb Farmer seems to have set them on Broadway super-screech. Clint Pridgen is excellent as the opportunistic Euro-Asian pimp. Director/set designer R. Brian Noffke advances the story smoothly with a simple set of sliding bamboo screens, communist red banners, and helicopter headlights. Tickets sold for the original and this community theater version probably come down to the last scene: a deeply cathartic, man-hating emotional train wreck. You could easily cry all the way home. Through May 17; 317-926-6630.