BWW Review: MISS SAIGON, Bristol Hippodrome
As one of the final so called mega-musicals of the 1980s, Miss Saigon could be forgiven if it felt a little dated by 2018. Thankfully, there's not one bit of tiredness about this re-booted version, originally seen in London in 2014 for its 25th Anniversary.
Unlike certain other musicals of that period that now creak and shudder, Miss Saigon is a relentless battering of your senses. Utilising the latest stage technology including three tons of helicopter, you don't leave the theatre feeling short-changed.
Musically, Miss Saigon may have failed to spawn the kind of household hits of composers Boublil & Schönberg's most famous work (Les Misérables) but the score retains that same kind of rousing richness that immerses you from the opening bars of the overture. The sung-through score has more than a few moments in common with the story of the barricades.
Set during the Vietnam War, it tells the story of Chris, an American soldier who falls for Kim, a young and naïve Vietnamese girl who has been forced form her village and into a brothel in Saigon. But this is a love found in war. From the first notes of 'The Movie In My Mind' Kim and the other girls dream of a life away from this place and from their pimp, The Engineer (a suitably devilish turn by Red Concepcion).
It's a seedy place they've ended up in. American soldiers who have given up hope on escaping the Viet Cong, decide to abandon their remaining morals and are willing to take a piece of any girl in The Engineer's club, ironically called 'Dreamland'.
Dreams are found, lived and shattered throughout Miss Saigon. Even Concepcion's cunning and despicable Engineer has dreams. His desire to live the American dream is fuelled by his speculative belief that his greed will be valued in America.
Sooha Kim gives a performance that makes you want to protect the naïve Kim, just as Chris does. Vocally she shines, as her voice soars above the orchestra. She is amply supported by Ashley Gilmour as Chris who looks every inch the GI.
Elana Martin copes well with an underwritten Ellen- a part that appears from nowhere but becomes pivotal to the story, it's a challenge that she rises to.
Directed with great assurance by Laurence Connor (who is something of a stalwart of the mega-musical) he keeps the story rattling on, wisely not letting the sentimentality hang for too long.
Miss Saigon has proven why it deserved a reimagining and restaging. It's a pounding, pulsating show. What it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in scale and directness. It demands your attention and doesn't let you go.