Review: Miss Saigon (Birmingham Hippodrome and tour)
After two years in the West End, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's musical has embarked on a tour of the UK
Cameron Mackintosh's 20th century re-telling of the Madame Butterfly story in which the tale moves to the Vietnam War is back on tour with dates up and down the country for the next 13 months.
Currently at Birmingham Hippodrome, the production is a version of the 2014 London revival which won a record nine WhatsOnStage Awards. And it's easy to see why. Miss Saigon may be more than 25 years-old but this version is as fresh as the day it was first produced – with a few tweaks and improvements along the way.
Miss Saigon is an ill-fated love story which carries the audience through the tumult of war, separation, hope and despair – all within three hours. Claude-Michel Schönberg's music and the lyrics created by Richard Maltby Jr and Alain Boublil remain at the heart of the show. Songs like "The Movie in My Mind", "The American Dream", "Bui Doi" and "I Still Believe" are emotion-packed story-tellers which quickly became classics of musical theatre.
Directed by Laurence Connor and designed by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley, this production returns to some of the more dramatic special effects of the first Miss Saigon. Musical aficionados will no doubt be comparing this tour with Miss Saigon's previous visits to the Hippodrome in 2003 and 2006 and it's the difference in the special effects which many will remember. Without giving too much away, this tour ensures a dramatic fall of Saigon complete with a helicopter to evacuate the Americans.
Sooha Kim has the role of Vietnamese village girl Kim completely in her grasp. She's innocent and naïve and yet has a steely determination which ensures she can cope with the horrors of the Vietnam War, holding onto her dream that her American soldier lover Chris will return. And when she learns the terrible truth, she remains strong enough to make her own choices to protect her son.
Ashley Gilmour plays the tormented GI Chris who in Kim finds a hope for the future amid the turmoil of the war, but when he fails to save her is tortured by the memories.
Red Concepcion is a brilliant Engineer who the audience can't help but love despite him being such a loathsome character. A wheeler dealer to the core, The Engineer uses and abuses every human being to achieve his aims but it's his blatant cynicism which is weirdly admirable. His show-stopping number "The American Dream" gives Concepcion the opportunity to revel in the role and he certainly does so with flair while ensuring minute attention to detail.
The tricky role of Ellen, Chris' American wife, is well-handled by Zoë Doano, with a new song giving Ellen a greater complexity. And Ryan O'Gorman plays Chris' friend John – the level-headed soldier who does what he has to in order to survive and then repays that survivors' guilt by supporting the children his colleagues left behind.
When Miss Saigon was first performed in London in 1989, the Vietnam War was still fairly recent history which gave the production a real resonance. Although that conflict may have dimmed into the past so many other wars have been played across our television screens that the show's messages feel as current today as then. The name and country may change but the human dramas at the centre are played out again and again.
Miss Saigon runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until 23 September 2017 and continues to tour until 15 September 2018.