Miss Saigon – Norwich, 27 April 2005

Miss Saigon on tour is in top fighting and emotional form. It has been restaged for the tour and it works very well from the wooden structures on each side of the stage depicting stairs and balconies, the bamboo built and straw covered Dreamland, the Bangkok sleaze to Kim’s dressing room in Bangkok shabby yet decorated by the girls to make it more bearable. The portrayal of the life for these people is very realistic, there is a more background speaking from the main characters and background chatter in Vietnamese creating a fuller picture of the life. A good example of this is during the lead in to ‘Why God Why’ the dawn filters into Dreamland and the workers start a new day in the cold light, a monk walking through makes them momentarily have a thought about what they do.

The tone of the piece is set from the opening scene as a group of GI’s torment, swear and abuse a Vietnamese man as people rush past. A lone girl is knocked over and is like a lost child in all this and at this point the Engineer takes her hand and takes her into his care, for Kim the bargain is struck. From this to Dreamland where the heat and low morality of the club is depicted, the best description of the girls is well used and no love is lost between them with bitchiness and cat fighting prevalent. Gigi (Jacqui Sanchez) is the Queen, crowned Miss Saigon yet as the evening ends when the show is over she is the only girl to go home alone. By contrast when the girls sing at the wedding ceremony the sleaziness of the night is no where to be seen and the girls are genuinely sweet and charming.

Head of all these is the Engineer, brilliantly played by Jon-Jon Briones who perfectly captured the true nature of the Engineer. A slick worker, charming, deceptive, friendly, conniving and greedy yet switches between each depending of who he is speaking to. He could be described as a lovable rogue, but you would find it difficult to find much to like in this man. With this ever changing demeanour he is suspicious when John wants to speak to Kim alone, scared that she and John will leave him out of the scheme, is angry and frightened as Thuy urges the soldiers to threaten to shoot him and Kim and is gleeful as he gets closer, in his mind, to America. In ‘The American Dream’ he commands the stage, to give a tour de force performance.

Miriam Valmores-Marasigan was excellent as Kim, portraying both the vulnerability and determination of her. Watching her joy as she loses herself in her dreams as she learns Chris is back and their initial love affair to her cold determination not to be pushed into marriage by Thuy and her despair as she meets Ellen. For someone so diminutive she has a lot of stage presence and for me came into her own during the confrontational scenes particularly the ‘Coo Coo Princess’ sequence as the Engineer finds her again bringing Thuy. A little part of the performance but effective, the change in demeanour as like her fellow people kneels in respect (and fright) of the Commissar only to realise when he speaks that it is Thuy.

Steven Houghton conveys the angst of Chris well from his disillusionment of Vietnam to his love affair with Kim. He is not the most fluid of performers and though he has a pleasant voice he is not vocally strong so numbers such as Why God Why don’t necessarily have the complete impact. He does get rooted to the spot at times which makes him seem awkward.

John was played by Matthew J Perry and was excellent as the calming force, both frustrated as his inability to understand his friend’s actions as he has seen Kim and knows she will not take their decision well. He performed a powerful Bui-Doi.

Kerry Ellis is one of the best Ellens I have ever seen. She excelled in the hotel scene and the emotion she portrayed was intense and gave a very genuine empathy for her character. Her despair as she tried to think on her feet as she met Kim trying to say the right thing, imagining what it would be like to be the other way around. She has a fabulous voice and powerfully delivered an emotional ‘Now that I’ve seen her’. The scene following as distraught she demanded he tell the truth and make his choice was very tense.

Sebastian Tan’s Thuy starts as the slightly countrified boy who has seen joining the army as making him something better than others, he takes Kim hands to lead her away from the Dreamland – saving her and yet 3 years later he is the ruthless and heartless People’s Commissar forcing the gun, that Kim holds, to his own chest urging her to shoot him believing she is incapable to doing it – which at that stage she is – that is until he is about to kill Tam. He showed this change very well as the young man who commands an army but is left floundering to command this one woman.

The lead into the Fall of Saigon sequence is very effective as the warmth suddenly leaves Kim’s room, the lights flicker, curtains breeze and candles blow out as Thuy’s ghost rises above the room and enters forcing Kim to confront her memories and guilt. As Chris walks forward into her memory she starts back and then Thuy fades away into the darkness with the words ‘think of that night, where was he back then’. The Fall of Saigon is a very powerful scene, the ever moving gates shifting the focus from inside to outside the embassy. At one moment Kim and Chris are only separated by one soldier yet neither see each other and Kim is carried out as Chris is forced to stay behind. Modern technology has provided the solution to creating the helicopter as it impressively lands behind the gates and flies off over the audience’s heads. The impact of this scene for me is always heightening through the slow motion sequences as this portrays the despair of the Vietnamese very effectively.

The cartoon dream of the Engineer during the American Dream brings that lift of humour which makes the tragic conclusion ever more poignant.

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