Miss Saigon

Jan 20 2018 | By More

★★★★★     Triumphant tragedy

Festival Theatre: Weds 17 Jan – Sat 17 Feb 2018
Review by Martin Gray

Miss Saigon, a musical tale of love, longing and sacrifice, lands at the Festival Theatre this week in a rather impressive chopper.

The heat really is on in Saigon when bargirl Kim meets US soldier Chris. He’s been dragged out by his pals, eager to let their hair down from the hell that is 1975 Vietnam, but Chris’ heart isn’t in it. Or rather, his soul – his spirit has been crushed by the war.

Red Concepcion as The Engineer and company. Pic: Johan Persson

The musical update of Madama Butterfly by Alain Boublil & Claude-Michel Schönberg (the gentlemen behind Les Miserables), sees Kim as a 17-year-old peasant girl railroaded into prostitution by the sinister hustler known as The Engineer.

Chris tries to pay her to leave the bar for good, but they can’t fight the attraction and are soon head over heels in love. The other bar girls perform a pseudo wedding ceremony and Chris arranges to take Kim back to the United States as his wife, but it’s not to be…

It’s safe to say that if you liked the Victor Hugo show, also staged by Cameron Mackintosh, you’ll like this too – some of the more-familiar songs could probably be slipped into Les Mis, changing only names and dates; there’s the big romance that seems doomed – even a massive prop to rival the Parisian barricade.

maximum comprehension

It’s not a case of deja vu, though, as Miss Saigon is its own creature, and a magnificent one at that. If you don’t know the history of the period, a few minutes on Wikipedia is recommended for maximum comprehension, as the sung-through show adapted from the original French text by Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr takes no prisoners.

Should you not manage that, you’ll likely by fine, carried along by such lovely numbers as the poignant Movie in My Mind, the angsty Why God Why? and the gorgeous Last Night of the World.

Ashley Gilmour (Chris) and Company. Pic: Johan Persson

It’s not all ballads, mind – there are upbeat numbers such as the scene-setting The Heat is On in Saigon and wildly cynical carnivalesque nightmare of The American Dream.

Then there’s the chilling military march The Morning of the Dragon, in which the show really wears its budget on its sleeves – dozens of performers marching, flipping, dancing in a procession of costumes and masks under a massive head of Ho Chi Minh.

Find fault with the performances? Good luck with that one. Sooha Kim is sweet voiced and sincere as Kim, her love for Chris staying just the right side of obsession. She’s quite heartbreaking, and well matched to Ashley Gilmour’s Chris – the characters can’t keep their hands off one another, kissing even between song lines, and the actors make the chemistry convincing.

terrific tonsils

Gilmour has terrific tonsils, as soulful as they’re strong, and he never coasts into simply singing and dancing from one number to the rest – he’s feeling those emotions, selling them to the audience.

The Miss Saigon company. Pic: Johan Persson

Red Concepción getting the final bow was a surprise, though he is rather brilliant as that opportunist spider of a man, The Engineer, his powerful pipes always serving the story. And while she’s only in a few scenes, Zoé Doano cements herself into the show brilliantly as Ellen, the woman Chris weds when he’s back in the US after the Fall of Saigon; her duet with Kim, I Still Believe, is a real tearjerker.

Gerald Santos as Thuy, who believes Kim rightfully his, has a lovely tone, making him hard to dislike, but he plays the villain to the hilt of his rather scary dagger. Ryan O’Gorman, as Chris’s army buddy John, jerks a few tears with a powerful version of Bui Doi, as images of real Amerasian children left behind after the US troops vanished flash behind him.

The leads are backed by an energetic ensemble of GIs, bargirls, peasants and communists, enriching the bigger numbers and acting their socks off – and in one case, a studded thong.

This touring production, sharply directed by Laurence Connor, is enchanting from beginning to end, with James McKeon’s precise musical direction of his first-rate orchestra a real asset.

With Miss Saigon, Edinburgh has its first must-see show of the year. It’s a cheesy old line but it bears repeating – Don’t Miss Saigon.

Running time 2 hours and 40 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Wednesday 17 January – Saturday 17 February 2018.
Tue – Sat evenings 7.30pm; Matinees: Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm (also Weds 14 Feb); Sun: 2pm.
Tickets from http://www.edtheatres.com/misssaigon.

Miss Saigon website: www.miss-saigon.com.
Facebook: @MissSaigonOfficial.
Twitter: @MissSaigonUK.

Miss Saigon on tour 2018:
17 Jan – 17 Feb Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
21 Feb – 17 March Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online
21 March – 12 May Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book online
16 May – 23 June Bristol
0844 871 3012 Book online
4 July – 4 August Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online
15 Aug – 15 Sept Norwich
Theatre Royal
01603 63 00 00 Book online
19 Sept – 20 Oct Bradford
01274 432 000 Book online
24 Oct – 17 Nov Sunderland
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online


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Comments (1)

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  1. Anne says:

    Saw miss siagon on 16 February and was not disappointed. From Kim who never gave up hope to the engineer who always hoped and love or hate him he made the show with his one liners. The festival theatre was the perfect venue.