Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 3, 2013

Interlochen closes theater season with 'Miss Saigon'

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — INTERLOCHEN — Longtime Interlochen Arts Academy theater instructor and director Robin Ellis likes challenges for herself and her students.

The academy’s upcoming musical production, “Miss Saigon,” has plenty of those:

n A script that is all lyrics and sung with no dialog at all.

n A cast of 51 students playing 160 roles, which means cast members have three or four parts. That means costumes for all.

n Creating a flexible set design for the flashbacks and constant time and location changes to span the three years in Saigon, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon’s new name after it fell to North Vietnam in 1975

n 22 set changes that must be run quickly and smoothly.

n A 50-foot dragon that sways it tail and moves its mouth with the help of 10 student puppeteers, or “dragon dancers.”

“Miss Saigon” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, May 10 and 11, in Corson Auditorium and caps the academy’s five-show theater season.

Based in part on Giacomo Pucinni’s “Madame Butterfly, “Miss Saigon” is about the doomed love story between an American GI and a South Vietnamese bar girl. It starts in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, just before the city fell on April 30, 1975, to communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces.

Ellis has directed more than 30 productions at Interlochen since 1990, including the recent “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “A Christmas Carol.” She said she was excited to do ‘Miss Saigon.”

“Most of our theater students have never worked on a show that is all lyrics,” she said. “They are not opera students, but bound for careers in theater or musical theater.”

Timing was a major factor in the selection of “Miss Saigon” for this year’s season, Ellis said.

“We try to look at the students who will return and figure out what shows will utilize their talents best,” Ellis said. “We thought this would be the year to cast this show because of the available students, voices and mix of cultural backgrounds and ethnicity.

“We have more students from other countries than ever before, which is another thing that enables you to do a show like “Miss Saigon.”

The lead female role, Kim, is performed by Japanese student Marina Kondo, a senior theater student with “a magnificent voice” from the Novi/Rochester Hills area, Ellis said. Michael Roach of Lexington, Ky., plays the male lead, an American GI.

Billy (William) Lawrence from Mt. Pleasant is the French-Vietnamese owner of the sleazy “Dreamland” bar where the pair meet.

“Miss Saigon” premiered in London in 1989 and on Broadway in 1991 and is one of its longest-running plays. It was written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr. It was Schönberg and Boublil’s second major success, following “Les Miserables” in 1985.

Rehearsals began in February and the 25-member student orchestra started working with the cast on Monday. The last two weeks of rehearsal are held in Corson Auditorium. The dragon, created by part-time costumer artist Kate Fiebing, has so far been a skeleton “without the frou-frou,” Ellis said. It was to get its dragon head, painted body, skin and scales early this week.

Working with Ellis, cast and musicians are IAA faculty members Melinda Rohn, musical director; Tom Riccobono, orchestra conductor; and choreographer Matthew Lindstrom.

“Miss Saigon” will be performed Friday and Saturday May 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Corson Auditorium and on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. Tickets to all performances are $22 adult, $18 senior, $9 student. Tickets can be purchased at or call 276-7800