A spectacular and emotionally devastating Miss Saigon has triumphed at the Palace Theater in a rich, brilliant production that underscores the tragedy of yet another American overseas war.

From the searing single shaft of light that introduces the powerful Jennifer Paz to the show's gut-wrenching finale, this is a not-to-be-missed musical x-ray of our catastrophic Vietnam excursion. 

Paz's lovely voice and heart-rending dramatic performance form the play's centerpiece.  She is utterly convincing as a rural waif who finds herself in a Saigon brothel, only to fall in love with her earnest American lover (Alan Gillespie).  The real male force in the show is the versatile, very impressive Johann Michael Camat, whose conniving, street smart Engineer gives the play its credibility and much of its depth.

Act I, in which Miss Saigon meets her American, drags on a bit long and sudsy as Paz and Gillespie do their dance of innocence.  But after intermission the play comes down with all the force of naplam in the morning.  In its pivotal scene, Rachel Kopf is mesmerizing as a new wife meeting her husband's former lover in a strange and faraway land.  It's as memorable a scene as I can remember in any stage play.  The final powerful passions explode from there. 

But the stage has already been set with a spellbinding number on "Bui-Doi," the abandoned Eurasian children of American GIs and their brief encounters with the desperate women of a war-torn nation.  The portrayal of the crazed, bloody 1975 escape of the last Americans from Saigon's infamous embassy rooftop is deeply wounding and staged with real genius. 

Enhanced by D.J. Oliver's excellent portrayal of an African-American GI, Miss Saigon does a stunning job of reminding us how utterly futile our Vietnam mis-adventure really was.  As it screeches toward human disaster, it's impossible to not wonder what the hell the United States was doing there at all.  And to remember that absolutely nothing was accomplished in exchange for the loss of 50,000 Americans and countless Miss Saigons. 

Given the utter alienation of American forces from the Iraqi people, there will be no passion plays like this one emerging from the Bush attack on Baghdad.  There is no love or romance at Abu Ghraib.    

Lest we forget, Miss Saigon underscores the uncaring arrogance of all that horror with her brilliant, gorgeous and heart-breaking reminder of our previous major overseas plunge into murderous mayhem. 

HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is at www.harveywasserman.com.  He is co-author of the upcoming ANOTHER STOLEN ELECTION:  VOICES OF THE DISENFRANCHISED, from www.freepress.org, of which he is senior editor.