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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Road to Saigon
Make no mistake: Joan Almedilla, Jennifer Paz and Jenni Selma are all strong singers and more than capable enough stage presences. Meet them at a party, and any one of these three actresses &mdash each of whom whom played Kim in Miss Saigon &mdash could probably regale you with a touching or witty story. I enjoyed, just by way of example, the tale that a journalist from the Philippine Daily Inquirer coaxed out of Paz, describing the actress nearly losing her engagement ring during a production of Beauty and the Beast which she had pinned to her bra. Good story. Good laugh, and it's not in this show.
Whether there's enough biographical interest in any of these three actresses to fill out an entire solo show is unlikely. So Road to Saigon hedges its bets, dividing their stage time equally. And as a singing, dancing threesome, they are deadly. Working with director/developer Jon Lawrence Rivera for the world premiere Road to Saigon, Almedilla, Paz and Selma have unearthed the drabbest personal anecdotes which they enhance by some equally boring &mdash if well-sung &mdash tunes.
The songs and storytelling are of the performers' choosing. Kay Cole has thrown together some musical staging to music director Nathan Wang's accompaniment. If director Rivera &mdash the founder of Playwrights Arena &mdash has done any kind of shaping to this shambling attempt at autobiography times 3, the results are not on stage at the David Henry Hwang Theatre. Its songs excepted, Saigon feels like a random chat fest. "Hey, tell me something about your childhood." . . ."Good. Now what was it like being on Broadway?" . . ."Check. How about that Saigon audition?"
The songs are not from Miss Saigon, but rather reflect the mood or anecdote being related. All three performers have splendid voices: Paz with her bell-like sweetness, Selma a Merman-esque belt and Almedilla plenty of torch and jazz. But even if these songs hold the most sacred of place to the singer, it is never &mdash and I mean never &mdash advisable to overlap Bette Midler's "From a Distance" and the Annie anthem "Tomorrow" for paying customers.
The Saigon connection is intended to be the common bond between these three ladies who &mdash despite their penchant for dressing alike &mdash (three costumes each in 90 minutes. Why? ) would appear to have zilch in common. All three actresses played luckless war bride Kim either on Broadway, on tour or both in the Cameron Macintosh blockbuster. They all proclaim that the part was a role of a lifetime, a door-opening, confidence-building, career-launching platform. But neither Almedilla, Paz nor Selma offer any evidence, juicy or otherwise, that great things have sprung from Kim. Paz , who at 36 appears to be the youngest of the performers, was still playing the role recently as 2008 when she took an Ovation award for her work at Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities.
When they dish, the ladies do so with the most velvet of gloves. A fellow understudy from the "Kim Farm" is labeled "annoying girl" but never named. The controversy over Jonathan Pryce playing the Eurasian Engineer at producer Macintosh's deep pocketed insistence is broached and quickly glossed over. Lea Salonga, who originated the role, gets a quickie tribute.
Ultimately, despite their ability to harmonize and give each other sincere and warm looks, there seems no compelling reason for these actresses to be sharing the same stage. Playing the same role doesn't automatically make you sisters. The connection simply has to be stronger, more firmly established.
There may well be an interesting one woman show to be built around a woman making a name for herself in Saigon The person who journeyed to Saigon and who should tell an audience what kinds of bumps, bruises and affirmations she acquired along the way is named Lea Salonga.