Only after recently being introduced to Miss Saigon via the 25th anniversary production, I was left dumbfounded as to how I hadn’t seen it before. So, on a whim, my two mates and I packed the car and took a four hour drive to Manchester to catch the touring production of Cameron Mackintosh’s critically acclaimed revival…because why the hell not?
Boubil and Schönberg’s classic tale of love and heartache is set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and is reminiscent of their other small production, you may have heard of it…Les Misérables. Miss Saigon borrows from Boubil and Schönberg’s talent at presenting an operatic musical with ballads for their actors to really chew on and lyrics that drop in and out of multi-linear music, trios and duets.
The tragic story is about love, separation, finding home through hardship and sacrifice; these are themes which are universal and always timely says A A Gill, May 2014. The tale follows Kim (Sooha Kim), a victim of the war, losing everyone close to her, who is “saved” by the brash, Uncle Sam worshiping owner of Dreamland (I’ll leave you to read the connotations) aptly named, The Engineer (played by Red Concepción). Here, Kim joins other women desperate to be the next “Miss Saigon” and score themselves an American soldier who will save them from the mindless slaughter occurring throughout Vietnam, eventually taking them back home to America and the evermore artificial American Dream.
Here, Kim meets Chris (Ashley Gilmour) and the two instantly fall in love; what comes after is a tale of separation spanning across three years. From the fall of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City, to the displacement of Vietnamese refugees into Bangkok, we follow Kim as she does all in her power to reunite her with Chris. However, the separation of cultures and war may just prove enough to defeat even the most passionately felt power of love.
There is no doubt that this revival production by Mackintosh and associate director Chris Key is visually stunning, artistically reverent and jaw dropping in what it manages to pull off…*cough* helicopter *cough*. However, as with any powerhouse show, it needs a powerhouse cast to pull it off. The company of Miss Saigon, when singing together – such as in Bui Doi and This is the Hour – hold enough vocal power to bring the house down.
As Kim, Sooha Kim hits each note and emotional sob that Kim utters along her story. However, I did feel at times that Kim was resting on the music and never really managed to take it and make it her own. In saying this, when it came for Kim to belt as, well, Kim (the character) the audience felt it.
Her torn, guilt ridden and sometimes unlikable partner, Chris is aptly played by Ashley Gilmour and what we received was a Chris who was never over played but presented his role straight. Gilmour’s voice was smooth and rich as Chris, but never too “Les Mis-like”. I can’t quite put my finger on what was missing, but I never fully believed the connection between Gilmour and Kim and felt that this could have been more focused on in order to receive the full emotional blows throughout the show.
My favourite role in the show however goes to The Engineer. Here, we have a character that is slimy, unforgivably selfish and focused on getting his little slice of The American Dream; he is a character that is crude, rude and deceptive in every action he undertakes. Red Concepción presented a camped version of The Engineer, and honestly, took me a while to warm up to. Although, as If you want to die in bed was being played out and he hit his final stamp, I was won over in the end. Concepción chewed on The Engineer’s lust for America, all the while wielding a butterfly knife like it was a maraca. Sadly I couldn’t help but constantly compare Jon Jon Briones performance from the 25th Anniversary to Concepción, but this was no fault on his part.
As for the rest of the cast that is spattered throughout, Gigi’s (Aicelle Santos) spot in the limelight in Move in my mind was blink and you’ll miss it; Ryan O’Gorman’s John never really hit his stride until Bui Doi and really needed to work on his diction; and Gerald Santos as Thuy aptly suited the role and was able to present an imminent threat to Kim throughout the show.
Altogether, if you missed the 25th Anniversary revival in London’s West End, then the touring company is your chance to make up for that mistake. So I’d recommend taking your own four hour car ride to catch it (if you dare), just don’t expect performances that will ultimately match the West End cast; the production and blueprint of the show itself will blow you away all on its own.
Stin’s Final Thought: I’m all for appropriating casts so we’re allowing racially accurate portrayal of characters within the settings chosen for a show…but damn I wanna play The Engineer!
Miss Saigon is currently touring the UK and Ireland. For a full list of venues, click the link below.