Monday, March 16, 2009

Miss Saigon from the Director's Point of View

Robert McDowell of The Classical Voice of North Carolina interviewed Miss Saigon director, Richard Stafford - see below for the complete interview and detailed information about the show from the director's perspective!

1. When did you first see or read or hear about this musical? Have you ever worked on a previous production of this musical? If so, when and where?

RS: I saw Miss Saigon shortly after it opened on Broadway in 1991. Willie Falk, the original "Chris" was a very good friend of mine which gave the whole experience much more resonance. This will be the first production of Miss Saigon that I have directed.

2. What do you like BEST about this musical? What made you
WANT to direct it?

RS: I've wanted to direct Miss Saigon for a long time now. It is a director's dream show because there's so much to it--epic sweeping story, stunning score and amazing visuals. I'm drawn to the historical back drop of the Vietnam War and the period of great change (the 70's) in our country. Our whole attitude towards war changed because of our experience in Vietnam. It is easy for me to imagine something like the Chris and Kim story being played over and over in different people's lives during that period. All this makes for great theater.

3. Briefly summarize the PLOT of this musical in your own words. Please explain the SITUATION at the start of the musical and how the various CHARACTERS fit in.

RS: The year is 1975 and Kim (Jennifer Paz) has fled her hometown in rural Vietnam for Saigon where she is lured into work as a bar girl in "Dreamland" owned by The Engineer (Kevin Gray). There she meets Chris (Eric Kunze) a Marine who works in the Embassy. They fall in love and Chris vows to take Kim back to America. Saigon is on the verge of invasion by the North Vietnamese Communist regime and Kim and Chris are separated by the ensuing chaos. Chris is airlifted out of Saigon but Kim is left behind where she gives birth to Tam--Chris' son. Three years pass and Chris, with no news of Kim, has married Ellen (Jennifer Shrader). He is plagued with nightmares that he cannot share with Ellen. Through his friend John (Josh Tower) who was with Chris at the Embassy but now works to reunite children of mixed-race left behind in Vietnam, Chris learns that Kim survived and now lives in Bangkok with their son, Tam. Chris and Ellen travel to make contact with Kim and Tam. Kim in learning that Chris is married makes the ultimate sacrifice a mother can make to keep her promise to her son of a better life for him.

4. What MAJOR CHALLENGES does staging this musical present to you as a director -- and to your cast and creative team?

RS: This is a huge show both technically and artistically. Our cast size is 38 and there are 20 different locations. Also, part of the original design is the creation of a 3 sided "box" made of shades that lower and raise to create different looks throughout the show. The timing of these moves will be time consuming. And to recreate the evacuation of Saigon we have a helicopter landing onstage--again a huge technical effect that is very difficult to time and program. The cast must adapt to the stage set in a remarkably short amount of time

5. Please name YOUR CREATIVE TEAM:
Producer: Carolee Baxter
Director: Richard Stafford
Choreographer: Marc Oka
Musical director: Edward G. Robinson
Technical director: Bill Yates, Jr.
Set designer: Scenery designed by Dustin J. Cardwell
Lighting designer: John Bartenstein
Costume designer: Mela Hoyt-Heydon; Costumer: Ann M. Bruskiewitz
Properties master/mistress: La urie Johnson
Sound designer: Nathaniel Hare
Stage manager: Gary Breitbach
Original music by: Claude-Michel Schonberg
and lyrics by: Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil
Other: m. Originally Produced on the stage by Cameron Mackintosh

6. Please describe the SET:

RS: In addition to the description above, the set pieces are stylistic and moveable by actors throughout. These pieces represent bars, Saigon streets, hotel rooms, bedrooms, ceremony houses, inside and outside the American embassy.

7. Please describe the LIGHTING:

RS: The lighting will be an integral element to the design of the show. It will be naturalistic in some scenes and showy and excitingly theatrical in others. We will be using smoke, haze and dry ice effects.

8. Please describe the COSTUMES:

RS: The costumes are all based on the traditional Vietnamese garments worn by the people of the time as well as American military clothes and American outfits of the 70s.

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