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Broadway & touring stars in San Gabriel for Miss Saigon Saturday.

April 27, 2010

Every theatre has a legacy to build, and San Gabriel Valley Music Theatre takes another step with its on Saturday, May 1, with two performances of Miss Saigon. This is not a “concert version” of the show, according to SGVMT board member Sally Baldwin. “A concert version usually means reading from the script, singing with script in hand, no costume and no sets or props.” The show, she says, initially was meant to be done in concert, but that has changed. Instead, it will be performed in its entirety with a full cast and 24-piece orchestra on stage. 

“All are off book. Fully costumed. Minimal sets with use of projected images and sounds to avoid the huge expense of helicopter, pink cadillac and other large pieces of scenery.” Director Ray Rochelle says he has enhanced the production through use of projected images he culled from more than 2,000 slides. “These slides belonged to friends of my dad who served in the war and show Vietnam firsthand,” he says. “You’ve never seen these images before.”

Miss Saigon is based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and tells the story of the tragic romance between a strong-willed Vietnamese girl and an American G.I. during the final days of the Vietnam War. It ran more than 4,200 performances between 1989-1999 in London and is the 10th longest running Broadway musical.

For director, Ray Rochelle, staging Miss Saigon at SGVMT is extremely personal. “I grew up here, on this stage,” he says. “I owe my career to what I learned here.”

Rochelle’s first musical with the San Gabriel Civic Light Opera, as it was known then, was 1984’s production of  “Music Man” as an ensemble performer. In 1989, he garnered a Dramalogue Award for his performance as “Paul” in SGVCLO’s A Chorus Line. He performed in 26 of SGVCLO/Music Theatre’s 54 productions until 1999 and assisted resident choreographer Rikki Lugo on several productions. Lugo, by the way, choreographs this weekend’s Miss Saigon.

Rochelle rehearses cast

Ray Rochelle also appeared as an original Member of the First National Company of Miss Saigon in 1992, then joined the Germany Company of Miss Saigon in 2000 Stuttgart (Stella Productions), singing the whole score in German, a feat he will not repeat this weekend. “Twenty-six shows later and 26 years almost to the date,” Rochelle says, “Miss Saigon comes to the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse.”  

Rochelle adds, “I am on a personal mission to help save the organization that gave me most of my stage experience with a successful box-office ‘vehicle show’ that also put me on the map and on the road to a professional career as a full-time performer.” Along the way, Rochelle choreographed and was assistant director in the Miss Saigon run at Fullerton Civic Light Opera in 2005 that won LA Ovation Awards for Best Musical, Best Direction, and was nominated for Best Choreography.

Lugo at mirror; Rochelle

While the story of Kim and John may be familiar, this weekend’s two performances will be unique, given Rochelle’s use of borrowed photographic slide images. “The bottom line is raising money for a theatre that I am passionate about. [Producer] Bobby Hundley has been a phenomenal asset in making this show possible. I’m indebted to Rikki Lugo for choreographing with me yet again – she was my mentor all those years ago. I know that we can sell out both shows and pave the way for more Broadway productions at this opulent theatre in the coming year.”

On a personal note, I can attest to the voices. I recently sat in on part of a rehearsal. It’s clear that Rochelle cashed in some favors from friends on Broadway and the touring companies.

There is a special inducement this weekend: Ticket holders can hear a special pre-show concert on the Mission Playhouse’s famous Wurlitzer Organ, sponsored by the Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society.

The San Gabriel Valley Music Theatre’s two productions of Miss Saigon at the Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel, Saturday, May 1, 2010, 2pm and 8pm, with organ concert beginning about 45 minutes prior to each performance. Tickets start at $20; information 626-282-1440.

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