When "Miss Saigon" debuted on Broadway in 1991, it was easy to get so caught up in the spectacle — look, a giant paper dragon! A pink Corvette! A helicopter! — that the central love story was lost. And the love story at the heart of "Miss Saigon" is not the typical boy-meets-girl musical fare: The love is that of a mother for her child.
That maternal devotion is what brings out the best of the production onstage at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center in Sanford. When the show focuses on heartfelt moments, thanks to the charismatic leading actors, it more than makes up for the ragged edges.
Christina Montgomery, in a passionate performance as young mother Kim, grabs your heart and won't let go as she fiercely fights for a better life for her son. Her lovely singing voice is matched by the powerful tenor of Justin Gregory as idealistic Chris, the American GI who falls for her charms.
In a supporting role as Chris' Army buddy John, Daniel Trujillo has an appealing everyday-Joe quality and powerfully delivers the anthem "Bui Doi."
It's the larger numbers that trip up director Tom Carter, who can't hide that he's lacking enough strong-voiced men in his dance-challenged ensemble. And vocally, the choral singing also makes mush out of necessary plot-advancing lyrics.
It can be frustrating when the production comes so close to getting things right. In one scene, a character appears as a ghost, eerily lit in green and spewing vengeance. But then the audience sees him awkwardly clamber down a ladder, ruining the tension of the moment.
Even the famous helicopter scene is staged well, with the characters — re-enacting the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War — climbing a ladder to board, surrounded by desperate Vietnamese. But the helicopter is too cartoony looking for the gravity of the moment.
Some other technical bobbles plagued opening night: Characters delivered lines in the dark, and overeager stagehands began moving sets and props before the lights went down to obscure them.
Two actors in trickier roles struggle a bit. Franco Bottley has comic panache as the scheming Engineer but occasionally lets his clowning become too broad. Rachel Massaro is a strong singer, but as Chris' wife comes across as more mean-spirited than upset at her husband's entanglements.
The unsung heroes of this production are found in the orchestra. Under the baton of music director Don Hopkinson, the dozen or so musicians create a fuller, more dynamic sound than many touring-show orchestras. The lush underscoring drives home the emotions on the stage.
When a community theater takes on such an ambitious musical, some cracks are bound to show. But this "Miss Saigon" is a heartfelt, worthy effort.
• What: Seminole County Repertory Company production of the Broadway musical
• Length: 2:30, including intermission
• Where: Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, 203 S. Magnolia Ave., Sanford
• When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through Sept. 23
• Tickets: $20-$27
• Call: 407-321-8111Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun