I went to Miss Saigon but I all can smell in the morning is cheese.

June 21, 2009

There is a very good reason why I dread attending live theatre productions — somehow I always end up on the stage.

It’s my own fault, really, because, with a bladder the size of a grape, I prefer to sit on the aisle , in case nature should come calling. Unfortunately, that happens to be the prime position should a play involve audience participation. Because, let’s face it, when the actors wade into the aisles in search of hapless victims to embarrass, they are not going to choose the guy sitting against the wall who has to climb over eight people just to get out.

It happened during a performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) when I was assigned the temporary title of Ophelia’s Id, a role which required me to sprint back and forth across the stage whenever a certain line was uttered.

And, yes, I did feel — and look — like an Id-iot.

I made another unplanned cameo during a Christmas pantomine put on by the White Rock Players Club. This time I was plucked out of my seat by a woman who led me onstage and then whispered in my ear: “Dip me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Dip me.”

“Into what?”

By the time I figured out she wanted me to lean her backwards as if we were dancing, the entire show had ground to a halt, the other actors frozen in place as they waited for us to finish before they could carry on.

Needless to say, I was quickly escorted back to my seat and I wasn’t entirely surprised when no one asked me for an autograph afterwards. Audiences can be so fickle.

And so it was with a healthy dose of trepidation that I accompanied Viking Woman to a weekend performance of Miss Saigon at the Napier Municipal Theatre. Although I knew enough about the play — brilliant logo, Vietnam, fall of Saigon, helicopter on stage — to be confidant audience members would be left in peace to simply watch and applaud.

The performance on this night was commendable — the acting adequate, the sets innovative and the singing actually quite excellent.

So why did I find myself zoning out to the point where, at times, I wasn’t even paying attention?

The problem with Miss Saigon is the songs. I couldn’t have named a single one before I walked into the theatre. Three hours later and nothing had changed. None of the tunes set my toes to tapping or had me humming on the drive home.

I’m not sure how a musical with such forgettable music manages to become a success but I’m guessing international audiences were willing to cut the creators some slack after their Les Miserables was such a huge hit. No one is more deaf than the sycophant.

The storyline for Miss Saigon is not exactly groundbreaking either. Wikipedia tells me it’s based on Madame Butterfly, but there were definitely elements borrowed directly from Romeo and Juliet, with the Vietcong as the Capulets and all those pleasure-seeking GI Joes as the Montagues. Cue the misunderstandings and missed assignations.

Cue the first of my several yawns.

There’s a reason why the logistical magic of lowering a helicopter onto a stage, without lopping off several adjacent heads, doesn’t occur until well into the second half. The thundering whupwhup of the whirling rotors serves to re-focus those of us whose minds have drifted off to contemplate more involving stories of the Vietnam War, starting with Apocalypse Now and Platoon.

Why a helicopter, you ask. I’m guessing it’s because dropping napalm in a crowded theatre almost always turns out messy.

But, now that I think about it, the resultant screams would have served to drown out all those cheesy songs. Bring on the Valkyries!

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