Many people who have seen the musical “Miss Saigon” will remember the scene in Act II when a helicopter is lifting American soldiers in Vietnam to safety. But for the Paramount Theatre’s presentation of the show, there will be no helicopter replica, according to the Paramount’s Artistic Director Jim Corti, who is directing the musical.
“The show is really not about the helicopter,” Corti said. “It’s about the people being left behind.”
Linda Buchanan, who is the set designer for the show, agrees.
“It’s really about the people trying to get out,” she said. “We looked at the original images from the Broadway show and people are going up a long stairway. I wanted to get that sense of height. If you bring a helicopter down, you don’t get that sense. It’s already on top of the building. For the audience, the helicopter is just out of sight.”
But the Paramount production will still give the illusion of a helicopter, according to Buchanan.
“We will have the flickering of lights through the copter blades, air movement and smoke,” she said.
“Miss Saigon” will be presented from Oct. 30 to Nov. 24 at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
Set in 1975 during the Vietnam War, “Miss Saigon” is the story of an American solider who falls in love with a Vietnamese bargirl during the days leading up to the American evacuation of Saigon. Following a quick wedding and an evening of passion, the soldier is forced to evacuate, pledging to return for his new bride. Years later, he learns his love escaped the country with their son, whom he never knew.
The musical is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly,” and portrays the conflict of leaving loved ones behind due to the circumstances of war. “Miss Saigon” features music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boubil. The show ran on Broadway from April 11, 1991 to Jan. 28, 2001, with a total of 4,092 performances.
In addition to helicopter illusions, images will be shown on a rear projection screen during the show to evoke a sense of 1975 reality.
“We will do documentary footage projection,” Corti said. “That puts us in a real place in a real time. We will show images of evacuations: on roof tops, on land. We think it’s a more contemporary opera; more of a docudrama. We will have black and white photos projected with the heat and color of the live action going on simultaneously.”
The entire “Miss Saigon” production team, which included Corti, Buchanan, the production manager, the technical director and the lighting designer, among others, made the decision to present the show without a replica of a helicopter.
“The first time it’s done, that’s exciting,” said Buchanan, referring to the helicopter in the original Broadway version of the play. “No one is expecting it. But we look at the show and we say, ‘What else can we do?’ We never really wanted to do it like it was done before. We just thought, ‘Let’s just think about what the play is really about.’ It’s about the world that all these characters are living in and how desperate it is.”
“The show is about these young people in a climate of chaos and panic,” he said. “We are trying to capture the lustfulness of it and the impulsiveness of it.
“It is a very human drama,” he continued. “Young people having a child and then figuring out what is best for the child; a young man dealing with nightmares; the self-sacrifice of a young mother. It’s riveting.”