Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh reviews Evita, 'a treat for the eyes and ears', at the Birmingham Hippodrome.Written by Ruth Horsburgh on 21st March 2018
Review: Miss Saigon at Birmingham Hippodrome
Culture Editor Olivia Boyce reviews a breathtaking touring production of the legendary musical
Few shows have quite the pedigree that Miss Saigon does. From Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg of Les Miserables fame, it reworks Puccini’s iconic opera Madame Butterfly within the context of the Vietnam War, drawing attention to the horrors and heartbreaks faced by those left behind when the American forces fled. It has been seen by over 35 million people in its 25 or so years, and this new touring production, currently on deployment at Birmingham’s Hippodrome Theatre, remains to this day a resonant and masterful tale of love and hope, despair and loss, dreams and nightmares.
Immediately striking is the sheer depth of detail, with the costuming, set and sound lavish and almost constantly spectacular. No expense is spared, rivalling the fare of the largest West End shows, and it is little wonder few venues can hold this Saigon – it’s a massive production, entire villages appearing on stage as if by magic, brought to life by a cast of over 60 on stage each night alone. It’s a spectacle rarely seen even on the largest of stages, so to see it in a touring production is a monumental achievement of its own right.
“...a resonant and masterful tale of love and hope, despair and loss, dreams and nightmares...
However, there’s far more to the production than its extravagant nature. The cast is an ensemble of perfection, all bringing their best as they play out the emotional and tragic tale of the two lovers torn apart by the forced American evacuation. Sooha Kim stars as Kim, the young Vietnamese woman whose plight, as her GI soldier lover is torn away, provides the driving force behind the show. Kim is perfectly cast, sweet vocals and innocence giving way to a powerhouse vocal performance in the bigger numbers, and a steely resilience that captured the audiences’ hearts and held them till the very end. I’d Give My Life For You stuns, and her duet of Movie in My Mind with Marsha Songcome, who plays fellow bar girl Gigi, has the power to bring you to tears in the opening moments.
Kim’s lover, Chris, is played with real depth by Ashley Gilmour. Gilmour captures the romance that overtakes his character with aplomb, yet also allows us to see a little of the trauma caused by the things he has seen in war. His vocals are a perfect match for Kim’s, and their duets are wonderful to witness. Zoë Doano gives a scene-stealing performance as Ellen, the woman to whom Chris returns in America. Her character has undergone a few changes over the years, with the older Now That I’ve Seen Her being replaced by the equally evocative Maybe as her signature song. Doano brings a wonderful compassion to a role that can sometimes be seen as ‘the other woman’, and you feel for her as she watches their world change for ever.
Red Concepcion here arrives to theatrical stardom in his role as the Engineer, a career defining performance. His Engineer is twisted, crass and bitter, and yet completely and inescapably captivating. Each wink, each joke, is perfectly timed, and the audience are soon putty in his capable hands. The American Dream, his huge number, is an extravagant and unsettling affair, seared into the brain long after the curtain falls.
“If you see one show all year, make it Miss Saigon... theatre at its most brilliant
Bui Doi, the second act opener, is hair-raising vocal perfection and awes the audience so completely that one could hear a pin drop, except for the gentle sounds of a great many brought to tears. The slideshow of ‘Bui Doi’, the children fathered by soldiers who evacuated before their birth, makes it a chilling, beautiful moment, of that remarkable kind that could be called life-changing. It is this that makes the show the true masterpiece that it is - it feels at each moment profoundly important, always both entertaining and eye-opening.
If you see one show all year, make it Miss Saigon. Heart-breaking, breath-taking, and an unforgettable piece of theatre, it is truly not to be missed. Miss Saigon is theatre at its most brilliant, and perhaps five stars would not suffice – it truly deserves a universe full of them.
Miss Saigon plays at the Birmingham Hippodrome until September 23rd inclusive, after which it continues on its tour. More information can be found here.