Miss Saigon is touring! After an incredibly successful revival at the West End’s Prince Edward Theatre, Cameron Macintosh’s juggernaut of a production transferred both to Broadway and onto a UK Tour. This UK Tour has now landed in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre with quite a long run straight over Christmas and New Year. So of course, I simply had to buy tickets as soon as they were released to see how this cast would tackle the well known and loved show.
As the creators of Les Misérables, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg do not shy away from emotional and dramatic topics. Famously, their musical conceptualisation of the Vietnam War was sparked by a famous photograph and inspired by Madam Butterfly. As they say, the rest is history especially when you have Cameron Mackintosh as the producer.
They bring their efforts together to tell the story of Kim a girl, beginning the story at only 17, orphaned by the sheer violence of the Vietnam War, who meets Chris, an American Soldier, and against all of the odds they genuinely fall in love. However, history seems to be against them and they are separated during a three-year time jump. Kim struggles through her relations with the Engineer and her cousin Thuy and fights to see her son reunited with his father. It is hard to discuss this show in an entirely spoiler-free fashion so consider yourself warned.
This show is responsible for starting the careers of two insanely talented women; Lea Salonga and Eva Noblezada. Eva’s interpretation in particular so took the West End by storm last year, combined with Jon Jon Briones’ intriguing engineer, that it is impossible to separate the show from their impacts. This is especially true when their performances were filmed for a special screening and DVD of the West End revival.
However, I can assure you that the part of Kim is in the very safe hands of Sooha Kim. She was actually the first cover for Kim at the Prince Edward Theatre, so she is certainly experienced and well-practised, proving to anyone and everyone that understudies are not to be underestimated. Her height makes her appear to be so small on stage, especially in comparison to Ashley Gilmour’s Chris, but this makes the shocking appearance of her powerful voice, starting in ‘This Money’s Yours’ even more satisfying. This contrast really ensures that the audience both feel and see Kim’s inner strength, making her struggles against pain, hurt and turmoil even more poignant.
I will admit that the filmed version of the West End revival is amazing, especially if you did not get to see that cast. However, this production truly blew me away as you get to see the beautiful intricate set. Now, it isn’t different to what you see in the film, but I separate it because the film loves close-ups. By going to see this show you are given the opportunity to see not just the intricacies of the set but also the gorgeous lighting. Bruno Poet’s lighting design makes the set complete and is purely beautiful. My favourite lighting moment comes during ‘The Morning of the Dragon’. This was one of my favourite moments in the show as Ben Osborne’s choreography is timed perfectly to the lighting and combined with the music and Dragon puppetry this show really becomes a feast for every sense.
Speaking of that Dragon puppet, I will say now that I love puppetry on stage and it is one of my favourite theatrical methods. So, of course, I loved the dragon with its fluid movements. However, the true star of the show in terms of set pieces is, of course, the helicopter. How could it be anything else? It astounded audiences over 25 years ago and it never gets old. Honestly, seeing that helicopter come to life will make the breath catch in your throat. The rest of the nightmare was also very well staged. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Gerald Santos’ performance of Thuy. He is a character who can easily become more irritating than threatening and I wasn’t sure about the echo used on his voice in the nightmare which is seen on the cast recording of the Prince Edward cast. However, the smooth fluid movement of his ghost and lack of echo ensure that he is very threatening.
There truly wasn’t a weak link in this cast. After seeing Ryan O’Gorman as Collins in the UK Tour of RENT earlier this year, I was not surprised that he took the shift in John’s character in his stride. He shifts quite effortlessly from American Soldier who is brought out of the standard jerkish attitude towards the women of Dreamland by his work in helping the Bụi đời. Similarly, to Sooha Kim, Red Concepción had to fill the very big shoes of Jon Jon Briones, who astounded audiences when he took on the role of The Engineer with gusto. Personally, I’ve never been a huge advocate of the Engineer and am always surprised when I remember that he is actually billed above Kim. However, I found myself really liking Red Concepcion’s performance as The Engineer, but mainly after the three-year time skip when they are struggling to get to America against the wishes of Thuy. However, I do also really like the detail at the end where The Engineer can be seen to be holding Tam, hiding him from the events of the finale. I do love little details like that which round out the character of the Engineer.
Another member of the cast who stood out for me was Zoë Doano as Ellen. I must admit that seeing Zoë was one of the reasons I wanted to see the show as I was unable to catch her performance as Cosette in Les Misérables. Ellen is also an interesting character when it comes to public opinion. As the construction of the show places Kim firmly in the driving seat of perception Ellen is most certainly the other woman. However, this production gives her a new song in ‘Maybe’ and Zoë Doano really does not hold back, which finally gives us a true insight into Ellen’s feelings. Also, during ‘Room 317’ both Zoë Doano and Sooha Kim put so much emotion into getting the feelings and opinions of their characters across. This means that not only do you get a solid insight into why Kim decides to take the course of action that she does in the finale, but you can also see where Ellen is coming from in her interactions with other characters. For such a small part, Zoë Doano really makes it her own and gives all of her effort.
Overall, of course this production is incredible and a rare production that I will give five stars to, only the third in my time of reviewing. I implore anyone to take full advantage of its long Christmas run at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre to see it if you can. It is running until Saturday the 6th of January and then continues to travel the UK. You can buy your tickets for the Millennium Centre here and the rest of the UK here.
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