Wales Millenium Centre
Tuesday 5th December 2017
*spoilers to follow – you’ve been warned!*
After the very mixed reception from Tiger Bay – The Musical, I pondered: what does make a great musical? Can it even be defined with any clear markers? In comes Miss Saigon…
This show needs little introduction, such is its clout. From the creators of Les Misérables, comes a pretty racy tale set only a few years after the awful war which befell Vietnam. This musical is cleverly inspired by Puccini’s opera Madam Butterfly. Whilst this may sound convoluted, all the themes taken from the opera are present: love, yearning, heartbreak and most important of all, sacrifice. Like the opera that preceded it, Miss Saigon is very much a hanky show, to wipe those constant tears away.
“The heat is on in Saigon”, so declare the opening chorus for this bolstering musical. Kim, a girl from the country has found herself thrust into the sleaze of Saigon. Encountering horny, American soldiers and prostitutes, she quickly bumps into dashing G.I. Chris. Chris is not like the other guys and they soon fall in love. Yet tensions build in the war and he must be off to fight.
Years pass (Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City) and we discover Kim has had a child with Chris and a huge campaign to find all these fatherless children and bring them to America. Tragically, Chris has remarried and the idea of Kim’s son making it to America is all she cares about. With nothing left to live for, she shoots herself as Chris holds her in his arms as she dies. Her son will go with him to America after all.
You could hear numerous audience members jump and cry out as Kim kills herself. It’s such a tragic moments and has an impact which stays with you.
Whilst there are weepy moments, they are also the eye bulging. The massive set pieces featuring dancing Communists, a lurid face of the Statue of Liberty and the famous helicopter (which flies away from the American Embassy) are all incredible moments. The helicopter itself is a marvel, as it passes off very well as the real thing.
Most of the songs are classics, instantly recognisable and packed with hearty melodic tenderness. The lyrics by Alain Boublil (though not always audible, due to the chaos on stage) have a snappiness to them and cleverness that drift throughout the show. The music by Claude-Michel Schönberg is glorious in its grandeur, with heightened operatic moments and perfumed evocations of the far-east. It’s an incredibly satisfying score.
The cast is world class. As Kim, Sooha Kim is on top form, who wins our hearts every time. With a golden voice and timid presence, it’s a beautiful role to perform and also to watch. Ashley Gilmour is Chris, dashing and getting away with a standard American accent, heard in many a musical of today. The singing voice is impressive for the big show-stopping numbers and he has a charm all of his own.
Stealing the show was Red Concepción as The Engineer. We never really know why he’s called his, as he is essentially a pimp, who abuses his girls in both Saigon and Bangkok. We would hate him, if it were not for his cheeky, boy like attitude, getting away with all sorts of nonsense. A brilliant theatrical presence, personified in his massive number The American Dream (best song of the show? Discuss). As he hopes Kim’s mixed-race child can make it to the States, he also has his eye on going as well. The song is an exaggerated dreamscape of American values and visuals and it never fails to impress.
Zoë Doano, as Ellen, is far from the villainess of Lady Pinkerton in Butterfly. Here the character is much more considered and even gets her own sympathetic song, to express all her worries about being with a man who has had an intense past. Ryan O’Gorman plays John: first army man then campaigner. It’s a meaty supporting role which is best expressed in the second act opener Bui Doi, the name of the children who are shamed for being mixed race. His determination never wavers and his task to bring Chris to Kim is an intense one, express through concerned acting. Kim’s cousin Thuy, is a pushy and fascist meanie, here tackled by the awesome Gerald Santos. He soon goes up the ladder on the army ranks and he is furious with Kim and her child, ending in tragic consequences.
If you want to know my favourite songs, they are: ‘The Movie in my Mind’, ‘Sund and Moon’, ‘If You Want To Die In Bed’, ‘Bui Doi’ and ‘The American Dream’. See the show and let us know your favourites!
The show does not end with an all singing, all dancing routine (we just had that with The American Dream). We get the heightened pang of misery which also mimics the opera. Because of this, the show leaves us baying for more, yet we never get it. This is one of those ultra-successful musicals that you just have to experience for yourself. Just don’t forget those tissues!
Volcanic theatre. An absolute must see.
Miss Saigon continues at the WMC until January 2018.
Photo Credit: Miss Saigon Website