Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Conceived as an indictment of the hell and human catastrophe that was the Vietnam War, Miss Saigon is a heart-breaking musical drama loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s operatic masterpiece Madame Butterfly. A handsome, disillusioned and sensitive American GI (Chris, played by James Reed) and a beautiful and innocent Vietnamese girl (Kim, played by Maylin Superio) fall in love only to be cruelly separated during the fall of Saigon. Several years later they are reunited when he learns she has borne him a son Tam, but their reunion ends in tragedy.
By any measure, Miss Saigon is a major undertaking. It has a difficult pop-rock-inflected operatic vocal score that continually tests soloists; it is through-composed, and through-sung which places additional demands on principals; it is fluidly set in diverse settings ranging from seedy night clubs to the grounds of a US Embassy; and it is emotionally charged from beginning to end, but even the moments of comic relief are poignant and far from light. It is a fusion of the style of modern opera (such as by John Coolidge Adams or Jake Heggie) and the typical razzle-dazzle and show-stopping chorus line work of a traditional Broadway musical. To bring all of this together is a major undertaking, and for the most part Max Rayner and his team were successful.
David MacGillivray was excellent as John. His impassioned delivery of Bui Doi to open Act II was a highlight of the show. Michelle Pearson equally tugged at our heart strings with a wonderfully controlled and emotional Now That I’ve Seen Her. Of all the principals, they demonstrated best the innate beauty of the musical score with accurate performances. Omkar Nagesh was strong as The Engineer and hit his straps in The American Dream with finely balanced comedy and pathos.
Big is not always best, and Reed often overpowered his solos and duets, especially Why, God, Why? This led to pitching problems and also partially obscured the sensitivity of his character. Superio also experienced some loss of accuracy – which might have been alleviated by a clearer melody line from Ben Saunders’ orchestra – but she looked stunning and truly inhabited her character. She was entirely believable.
With the exception of the bedroom scenes, Ole Woiebkin’s set design evoked an appropriate look and feel. It featured well-painted flown scenery and multi-purpose trucks that, on opening might, did not move smoothly. Being able to clearly see through to the back stage area spoiled the illusion at times. Irena Setchell’s choreography was effective and well handled by the ensemble. The cast looked great in Merici Thompson’s colourful costumes that were appropriate to the period. Lighting by Peter Howie and Chris Golding was empathetic especially in The Fall of Saigon and The American Dream.
The opening night near-sell-out audience was spectacularly enthusiastic and left feeling well entertained.