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A Damp Debut : Newly Renovated Ahmanson Opens With ‘Miss Saigon’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Outside, the rain fell. Inside, Saigon fell.

The mega-musical “Miss Saigon,” a love story set against the 1975 fall of Saigon, reopened the newly renovated Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center on Wednesday night with a . . . splash.

Before the show began, a stream of celebrities, dressed to the nines, emerged from limousines near the middle of the Music Center plaza and strolled down a long red carpet toward the Ahmanson, at the north end of the plaza. The list included Mayor Richard Riordan, Jean Claude Van Damme, Dennis Franz, Meredith Baxter and Valerie Harper. The first part of their journey was under an arcade that kept them dry.

But as they reached the theater, the red carpet abruptly turned right, into the theater’s spanking new forecourt--the one remaining detail of the theater’s $17.2-million renovation that was not completed in time for the theater’s official rededication last month. The forecourt is not covered.

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At this point the red carpet became a soggy sponge, and the forecourt became a mass of puddles that brought back memories of the reflecting pool that was there before the renovation. Some of the celebrities squished their way through it, while others left the red carpet behind and sought shelter in the narrow covered area right next to the theater. From there they made their way through the crowd to the theater entrance.

Once inside the new lobby, however, they could shake off the water. And once inside the renovated hall, designed to create a more inviting and intimate atmosphere--even for a show as big as “Miss Saigon"--they could forget the rain and concentrate on an ill-fated romance between a Vietnamese bar girl and her favorite G.I.

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When “Miss Saigon” opened in New York in 1991, impresario Cameron Mackintosh encountered a different kind of storm: Asian-Americans protested his hiring of white actor Jonathan Pryce to play the Eurasian role of the engineer.

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This time, Kevin Gray, a U.S.-born actor of Chinese and Ukrainian descent, plays the engineer, and no one is complaining.


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