I will put this plainly, Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone is a must-see. This Manhattan Theatre Club production, currently playing at the New York City Center, is so good you will want to see it again. It has laughs, ninjas, a serious rap flow, and a rare perspective on the Vietnam War. Although the musical is quick to proclaim this is a love story that is founded in war, not a war story, Nguyen’s insights on the Vietnamese perspective are fascinating.
Vietgone is a triumph of a musical. First, the raps that flow out of Jennifer Ikeda’s Tong and Raymond Lee’s Quang can seriously rival Kanye. Shane Rettig’s music is clear in delivery and poignant in its sociological analysis. From the woes of falling in love to the devastation of being an immigrant, rare has a Broadway musical, besides Hamilton, captured so artfully the nuances and sentiments of these situations and done it through Hip Hop. Thus, this Off-Broadway gem feels like a hidden godsend for those that wish to receive Hamilton level bliss and insightfulness, but are not willing to make the three year wait for tickets. Well, wait no further because Vietgone is really good, but, more importantly, it is wise.
The Vietnam War has been seen as a stain in American history, and one of our biggest political mistakes. Yet, to Nguyen and the masterful cast, America’s aid to the Vietnamese, in battling the atrocious, dictatorial Vietcong, might have the most moral decision we have ever made in terms of joining a war. Let us be honest, war is about interests and gain. Money can seem like a bigger prize in war than moral righteousness, but, in Vietgone, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War is seen as noble and altruistic. No we, America, did not “win”, but to the Vietnamese we became their brethren against brutality. This perspective will leave viewers in awe, especially because it is presented though a love story between Jennifer Ikeda’s Tong and Raymond Lee’s Quang.
Vietgone’s cast is magnificent. Each actor plays multiple roles, except for Lee and Ikeda, whom are the central reminders that, even in war, love prevails. Lee’s Quang and Ikeda’s Tong are incredibly charismatic and intelligent characters, whose inner strength enamors the other. Ikeda makes Tong feel like a timeless, feminist icon who completely owns her sexuality and spirit in times and countries, the U.S. and Vietnam, where that seemed impossible for women. Vietgone jumps back and forth in time to find the characters as they were in Vietnam, fighting off the Vietcong’s cruelly fatal initiatives, and later on, during the 1970’s, in the U.S. immigrant detainment camp, Fort Chaffee. The musical smoothly travels through time, in part, because of the stunningly neon set designed by Tim Mackabee and Justin Townsend. Each scene fluidly enters the other so that the audience never stops feeling that they are in the same journey as the characters before them. Vietgone assures that you are always spiritually connected to the characters’ stories by, again, having a marvelously talented cast.
Jon Hoche as Quang’s best friend/ war-brother Nhan is uproarious. He is the giant heart of this play by certifying that when he is on stage, even as other characters, there is always a reason to smile and feel the vulnerability of these immigrants’ narratives. Paco Tolson is another stellar actor who might as well be a chameleon. He literally transforms into the seven characters he plays for your entertainment including the audience’s makeshift narrator. Yet, again, Vietgone shines thanks to its female cast. Samantha Quan is fabulous as Tong’s mother, Thu. She is a consistent reminder of the inner perseverance one must have when being forced to leave behind everything they know and love, including their children. Each character has suffered traumatic violence, poverty, and prejudiced rejection from both countries they struggle to call home: the United States and Vietnam. Thus, the beauty of Vietgone’s love story is that it shows how the romance between two people can be their escape from feeling like social inbetweeners.
When you are an immigrant, in many ways, you are a social/global “inbetweener”. You no longer belong to your country of birth that you have, most likely, escaped due to abject poverty and violence. Yet, you might not ever feel like you fully belong to your new country that never manages to make you feel apart of it, through both your rights and because of your appearance. Vietgone reminds viewers that immigrants lose more than their material things; they also lose their spiritual value. As each character tries to figure out how to make America their new home, audiences will compassionately ponder how to make immigrants feel more welcomed. Vietgone truly is a poignant tale for our current socio-political atmosphere. Wonderfully directed by May Adrales, Vietgone will play until November 21. Click here
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Location: New York City Center Stage 1- 131 W 55th St (btwn 6th & 7th)
New York, NY 10019