Cameron Mackintosh is back with a dynamic and powerful revival production of Miss Saigon. This huge show takes 100 people, 16 trucks and three whole days to set up and it’s easy to see why.
As someone that hasn’t even read the plot of Miss Saigon, let alone seen a production or film, I was caught off guard by the emotionally fuelled plot. Miss Saigon is based on Puccini’s 1903 opera Madama Butterfly and is set during the Vietnam War. A love story unfolds, one that faces adversity from the beginning. Young Kim finds herself getting a job in the strip club Dreamland, where she is saved by dashing marine Chris who has been dragged inside the sleazy joint by his fellow soldiers. The story contrasts raw and heartfelt scenes with the stark and brutal reality of the Vietnam War. It is a timeless classic and a piece of ingenious writing. Darker musicals such as Blood Brothers, Les Miserables and now, Miss Saigon, are a personal favourite of mine.
In this performance the alternate actress for Kim took to the stage. 18-year-old Joreen Bautista captures the innocence and bewilderment perfectly during her first scenes. As an audience member you grow fonder as Kim grows up, seeing her at her most vulnerable and most empowered. Convincing and believable, Joreen exuded each emotion of the complex character brilliantly and proved she had a decent singing voice as well.
The Engineer’s comic relief was needed amongst the musicals darkest moments. His breaking of the fourth wall was warmly welcomed and he received the biggest cheer of the evening for his solo, ‘The American Dream’, which was an extravaganza to say the least. Red Concepción gave the perfect balance of razzle dazzle, charm and corruption to his character of the Engineer – a winning combination.
Ashley Gilmour as the heartthrob Chris is the knight in shining armour, rescuing Kim and bringing her into his arms as they fall into a whirlwind of love in one night. The couple’s chemistry could have been stronger, but they didn’t miss a beat when it came to their duet ‘Sun and Moon’.
As I sat listening to the musical score (with not even a programme to inform me of the cast and crew), I kept thinking the sound was very reminiscent of Les Miserables. It was only after the performance I realised it shares composers. The magnificent Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg weave the music into the political themes whilst remaining tight to the story. There are heavy and poignant numbers such as ‘Movie in my Mind’, as well as ‘If You Want To Die In Bed’, which are more lighthearted. The whole audience were filing out humming ‘The Heat Is On’, signalling that Boublil and Schönberg had succeeded in their job.
So, I’ve said the story was great, the cast was great and the music was great. But in this particular production (bear in mind I have no frame of reference) the visual elements exceeded my expectations. The scenery began with minimal, muted colours and grubby furniture, evolving into a sky filled with flashing neon signs, 10 foot high iron gates and of course the iconic helicopter. The contrast of a dark stage with single faded spotlight on Kim, to blinding lights with dancing girls and soldiers in formation leaving you guess what is coming next and be constantly wanting more.
Visually, the show is an absolute spectacle, in fact, one of the visually strongest I’ve ever seen. Team it with one of the most powerful stories in musical history and impeccable direction from Macintosh and you’ve got a triumph of a show. Couldn’t recommend more.