BWW Review: MISS SAIGON, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
The original production of Miss Saigon ran for more than ten years at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane throughout the 1990s, and a revised version - billed as the 25th anniversary production - opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in 2014. Following its closure in May 2016, it's this version which has now embarked on a major UK tour. And what a good production it is.
Premiering four years after their success with Les Misérables, composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil's acclaimed musical is based on the story of Puccini's 1903 opera Madama Butterfly.
In the last days of the Vietnam War, 17 year-old Kim is forced to work in a Saigon bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets and falls in love with an American GI named Chris but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For three years, Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he has fathered a son.
There's an old adage that, with a Cameron Mackintosh production, the quality remains consistently high no matter where the production is staged, and this is certainly true here. For those familiar with the recent London production, one does not feel short-changed with this tour.
Every effect - yes, even the helicopter scene - is at least equally impressive as at the Prince Edward, and it's good to again observe how, with technology moving on, the staging of several scenes has become even more spectacular than the original Drury Lane run. For example, the helicopter now lifts off with at least two actors in it, whereas originally it took off empty. The Ho Chi Minh City scenes have also had a boost, with greater urgency and addition of pyrotechnics.
Miss Saigon never produced a chart hit, unlike its contemporaries The Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love, but the score is arguably Schönberg's finest. Kim and Chris's two peaceful, romantic duets - "Sun and Moon" and "The Last Night of the World" - beautifully contrast with the desperate war scenes to come.
Meanwhile, the Engineer's "If You Want To Die In Bed" and "The American Dream" provide apparent light relief, but - as ever with the Engineer - there are suitably sinister undertones.
Like the production itself, the quality of the principals is uniformly high. It's true to say that this group is not the absolute best that the show has seen in over nearly 30 years, but Sooha Kim (Kim), Ashley Gilmour (Chris) and Red Concepcion (the Engineer) are an excellent match for each other. Kim's emotions in the final scenes are particularly heartbreaking.
The "I Still Believe" duet between Kim and Zoe Doano (Ellen) lacks power, but by the second half, Doano is on fine form. Ellen's original second half climactic number, variously entitled "It's Her Or Me" and "Now That I've Seen Her", was replaced for the 2014 revival by the new Schönberg song "Maybe" and that change is repeated here.
There are a few occasions during this new production that one can feel somewhat bombarded with volume - at points some lyrics are lost and the pace can seem a little relentless. The quality of the writing is so good, however, and the scale of the production so immense, that Miss Saigon undoubtedly sets the standard for other touring productions to try to match.
Picture credit: Johan Persson