Miss Saigon opened in the West End in 1989 and reflected the traumatic aftermath of the Vietnamese war and the tragic stories which conflict inevitably brings. Years pass by but the tragedy never fades and the stories of the Bui Doi, the dust of life, the children of foreign soldiers and local women, continue. Miss Saigon brings one of their stories to the stage in a spectacular and emotional roller coaster of a musical. Laurence Connor directs a supremely talented ensemble with panache and style. We are thrown straight into the den of iniquity that is the Engineer’s Dreamland and the scene is set for the story which you just know, even if it’s your first contact with the show and the time honoured storyline, that’s it’s going to end badly for someone. The juxtaposition of the showgirls with their eager GIs and the emerging love story between Chris and Kim draws you in straight away.
Red Concepcion, The Engineer, is a massive talent: his showstopper, the American Dream, is the perfect vehicle for him to show his musical talent and his ability to engage his audience, an almost light hearted moment in a very sombre story. Kim, the Vietnamese village girl orphaned by the war and dragged to Dreamland to join the prostitute gang, is an innocent who truly believes throughout that her GI, Chris, will come back for her and her son Tan. Sooha Kim portrays this innocence and belief beautifully; her vocal range and intensity make Kim a believable and sympathetic character. Her duets with Chris, Ashley Gilmour, are tender and moving. Ryan O Gorman playing John, Chris’ friend and army colleague, gives a strong performance in Bui Doi as he acknowledges responsibility for the lost and neglected children.
The spectacularly staged Morning of the Dragon, representing the new totalitarian regime, is chilling, and yet strangely uplifting simply because of the energy and sheer talent on show. The now famous helicopter scene did not disappoint and was as spectacular as we all hoped it would be. Zoe Doano as Chris’ American wife Ellen and Gerald Santos as Kim’s childhood fiancé and subsequent army general Thuy gave powerful supporting performances. The orchestra, directed by James McKeon, blended seamlessly with the vocals and created the atmosphere effectively. Lighting, design, scene changes, costumes, everything just gelled and added to the sense of wonder.
Miss Saigon is always well produced and performed, but this production seemed extraordinary in its intensity, emotion and energy. The ensemble is immensely talented and the standing ovation, loud cheers and overheard snippets of conversation on the way out are all evidence of just how much the Birmingham audience loved this show. Go to see it. You’ll miss something very special if you don’t.
Miss Saigon runs until 23rd September and tickets are available here
Review by Mary McHenry