Miss Saigon continues at Birmingham Hippodrome until 23 September and then tours the UK until March 2018.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
After the whirlwind of the 25th anniversary and Broadway transfer, Miss Saigon – our favourite Madam Butterfly-inspired grand operetta is back – and touring the UK. Right now it’s in the accommodating arms of the ever-opulent Birmingham Hippodrome, and the heat is most definitely on.
No grandeur is spared for the sake of portability – the familiar and overwhelming combination of neon, crowded Vietnam balconies, extraordinary acrobatics, up-scaled set pieces and unrelenting energy sends us immediately to the epic end of the spectrum.
The leads are no exception. Ashley Gilmour, as Chris, is every part the earnest soldier amongst the chaos, and is in fine voice. He is joined by Sooha Kim in an outstanding debut as the show’s heroine, Kim – navigating the paradox of porcelain fragility and indestructible tenacity with absolute precision, and a voice of spun silver.
The ever-grimacing Engineer has always been an enigma. If calibrated badly, he can be one-dimensional or fatally contentious – but in the hands of Red Concepcion, we find a perfect alchemy of seething disillusionment and fury masked by a crass veil of dazzling rherotic, vulgarity and a dark, seductive lust for the American Dream.
It’s a powerhouse performance, and despite the arguable weaknesses of the score for such a complex character, Concepcion grips a darkly seductive hold over us throughout.
A highlight of the evening comes unexpectedly in the form of the wedding scene. Often overlooked, the musical complexity of this moment and the transcendent chorus work is absolutely stunning.
Laurence Connor’s production draws together the threads of some stellar talents. Bruno Poet’s lighting design is a wonder to behold – cinematic in scope and incredibly precise in detail. Combined with Bob Avian’s movement and choreography, it feels like every frame has been perfectly adjusted for purpose: bravely vulgar when necessary, balletic and romantic, intimidating, and acrobatic.
Despite the unenviable task of performing ‘Maybe’ in place of the far more popular ‘Now That I’ve Seen Her’, Zoe Doano, as Ellen, demonstrates a compassion in the role which is rarely as nuanced and humane as she accomplishes.
Over 25 years on from the original premiere, how does the show fare? There are some clear parallels to draw for modern times – war, of course, is ever imposed upon the innocent, and the movement of those whose cities are reduced to rubble cannot fail to stick in the back of the mind, particularly during the astounding helicopter scene.
However, Boublil and Schönberg’s show does feel a little like being dragged at lightspeed from torch number to plot point – where do you have left to go after ‘The Movie in my Mind’? However, Marsha Songcome, as Gigi, does attack the role with gusto and delivers a layered and powerful performance.
Perhaps this has always been a weakness of the show, but it does feel at times like there’s barely a chance to relate to any character before we are asked to care about them. As a result, an epic show becomes overwhelming, but stops short of heart-rending.
Overall though, an astonishing spectacle, a fantastic cast and a summer show guaranteed to enthral.