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Theater review: 'Road to Saigon' at the David Henry Hwang Theater

May 21, 2010 |  5:30 am
SaigonPersonal candor meets professional virtuosity in "Road to Saigon" at East West Players, to irresistible effect. By giving three artists who have played the lead role in "Miss Saigon" free rein to merge their stories, director Jon Lawrence Rivera creates an ineluctable entertainment.

From our first view of performers Joan Almedilla, Jennifer Paz and Jenni Selma in the portals of designer John H. Binkley's abstract set, we're intrigued. Then they open their mouths, and we're hooked.

It's not just their spectacular vocal gifts, which are self-evident. Almedilla is perhaps the most soulful, Selma the boldest, and Paz, as ever, combines the angelic and the impish. Whether it's Selma's galvanic "Don't Rain on My Parade," Almedilla's breathtaking "Home" or Paz's hysterical "Die," these prodigies deliver show-stopping results, accompanied by ace musical director Nathan Wang as though being paid by the note.

What really drives "Road" is the unforced way these women interact with each other and the audience, their mutual regard an undiluted treat to witness.  Wisely, Rivera's direction and Kay Cole's musical staging are judicious, essentially just letting this trio fly. Rachel Shachar's elegant costumes engage the eye, Bob Blackburn's sound makes the vocals pop, and Jeremy Pivnick's lighting brilliantly mirrors the shifting moods.

Yes, some interlaced details hit on deeper issues than a pocket-sized revue can encompass. Yet I've seen full-blown Broadway musicals that didn't pack half as much mettle into their big-budget effects, including the show that gave these ladies their break. "Road to Saigon" is extremely specialized, virtually unclassifiable, and utterly enchanting. Don't miss it.

--David C. Nichols

"Road to Saigon," David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 13. $40-$50. (213) 625-7000 or Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Photo: Joan Almedilla (left), Jenni Selma (center), and Jennifer Paz (right) of 'Road to Saigon'. Credit: Michael Lamont