Broadway in its glory with 'Saigon,' 'Will Rogers' and 'Secret Garden'

Theater

July 11, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

New York-- Right now, it's about even: the British, 4, the Americans, 4.

The British are responsible for four big musicals, ''Cats,'' ''Les Miserables,'' ''Miss Saigon'' and ''Phantom of the Opera.'' The Americans have ''City of Angels,'' ''Grand Hotel,'' ''The Secret Garden'' and ''The Will Rogers Follies.'' We can't count '' Gypsy.'' It's a revival.

''Miss Saigon'' deserves all the hype it has gotten. It is spectacular entertainment. Its chief distraction may be the fact that it is a downer, which is no surprise. It is, after all, a remake of ''Madame Butterfly.''

''Miss Saigon'' does follow the ''Butterfly'' plot, but the curtain call is so joyous, you're likely to leave the theater feeling good. The message of the curtain call is that this is drama, not life.

And what drama! What music! What spectacle! It was the English who made the stage musical as big as it is, and ''Miss Saigon'' does nothing to diminish that reputation. The drama, however, is not lost. Lea Salonga is Kim, the girl who loves the Marine. Willy Falk is the Marine who loves and loses Kim. Jonathan Pryce is The Engineer, the man who manages the house in which Kim is to work.

The musical opens in Saigon in 1975, moves ahead to 1978 when the Communists have taken over, then returns to 1975.

The fall of Saigon is brilliantly staged, but then everything about the show is brilliant, beginning with the score. Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, who wrote ''Les Mis,'' wrote the score for ''Miss Saigon.'' It is not as melodious as the ''Les Mis'' score, but it is certainly listenable; you'll leave the theater humming ''The American Dream.''

Salonga is immensely appealing as the Vietnamese girl who loves the Marine, has a child by him and makes the supreme sacrifice to see that her son has a better life than she had. Pryce is sly and nimble as The Engineer, and Falk has the kind of voice you could listen to all night.

''Miss Saigon,'' an opera, is playing at The Broadway. Some of the seats in the mezzanine are going for $100 each, but all orchestra seats are $60.

*

''The Will Rogers Follies,'' at the newly refurbished Palace, is a delight.

Written by Peter Stone and directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune, it's a combination of Ziegfeld and Rogers, telling the life story of Rogers in the form of a Ziegfeld revue. Actually, Ziegfeld did nothing of this sort, but who cares? The blend is an ingenious one. We learn all about Rogers and the things he might have said had he lived to 1991. Actually, he died in 1935, in an airplane crash with Wiley Post.

The score, by Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is more than attractive, but it's the dancing that makes this show, which also has rope tricks, a dog act and a bevy of chorus girls.

Tune has his girls (and a few boys) do amusing things with powder puffs, ropes, hats and just hands. The hands are used in a sit-down number that was seen on the Tony Awards show. Of course, the number looks much better at the Palace, but then everything looks good there, including Keith Carradine, who makes a splendid Rogers. The man can sing. He can also rope a bit.

You can take the kids to see this one. There is a bit of nudity, but it is so subtly handled, no one is likely to mind.

*

''The Secret Garden,''at the St. James Theater, based on the story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is a delicate presentation. Marsha Norman ('' 'Night, Mother'') wrote the book and lyrics, Lucy Simon wrote the music and Susan Schulman, directed. Michael Lichtefeld did the choreography.

The score has no particular song that lingers, but all of it is pleasant and nicely sung by the principals, who include Daisy Eagan as Mary; Mandy Patinkin as Archibald, uncle to the orphaned Mary; and Rebecca Luker as Lily, the woman Archibald adored and lost.

The scenery, while not as big as that in ''Will Rogers'' or ''Miss Saigon,'' is big enough, and the costumes are dazzling.

''The Secret Garden'' has several numbers that stand out. And the finale is guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.

Eagan is continuously appealing as Mary, even when she is being less than sweet, and Luker is a lovely vision as Lily's ghost.

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