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Miss Saigon Still Soars

When I first heard about the musical Miss Saigon in 1989- everyone was praising the helicopter alone. I wanted to know what the show was about but people just kept on referring to the huge gob-smacking special effect that appears on stage. Like the crashing chandelier in Phantom Of The Opera it is a sign of the times – in that musicals have adopted movie traits in order to sell the show and give it a unique selling point. The one thing that grabs you now watching this current UK/>/> tour is that beneath this expensive façade lies a timeless romantic tale filled with all of the ingredients necessary to tap into every emotion.  Cameron Mackintosh has cut down the size of the sets for this new tour so that it can play to more regions and smaller theatres. So, the helicopter is still there but is now a 3D image projected onto a screen.  

The great thing is that these adjustments add something special to the celebrated classic rather than leave you feeling disappointed. This new found intimacy means that you feel more emotionally involved. You are transported back to 1975 Saigon/> following the central love story between Kim, a young Vietnamese woman and Chris, an American GI. The couple struggle to keep their relationship alive against the backdrop of the evacuation of Saigon/>. Hence, complications ensue as the couple find themselves with many obstacles to climb to get back together following a separation. Years later we see contrasting images of their lives until they meet. As the story is loosely based on Puccini's heartbreaking Madame Butterfly there is no show stopping all smiling finale in store for the characters or the audience.

You could call me a Miss Saigon fan as this is the fourth time I have seen this show. I have always been impressed by previous casts but there has always been this nagging feeling that some have overacted and not nailed the emotional core of the piece. No such problems here with the current touring UK/>/> cast. Ima Castro could so easily have aped her predecessors as Kim, in that she could have cried and screamed at the relevant points but left the depth to her co stars.  Thankfully this gifted actress imbues Kim with an air of desperation but never self righteousness which has dominated previous portrayals of this complicated character. Ramin Karimloo brings sex appeal, and again a real deeper understanding of what drives his character. I have seen Chris portrayed as a bland, selfish soldier. Here he is confused and desperate to do right by everyone but not a bad person. To engage with this story the leads require the chemistry necessary to make you believe. These two have it in abundance. When Karimloo holds Castro, you really feel their pain.  

The part of the engineer, Kim's visa hungry boss has always been a scene stealer bringing welcome humorous elements to this sad tale. Jon Jon Briones is excellent, constantly playing up to the audience and making them laugh. He is at one time malevolent and at others torn between the dreams of Uncle Sam and his own country which is crumbling before his very eyes. His marvelous "American Dream" is filled with irony and this is wonderfully accompanied Gerald Scarfe's amusingly sharp animation.

John Partridge plays Chris' friend John with aplomb. He makes this supporting role much more pivotal than I remember it being before. His vocal delivery is truly astounding.  Christian Rey Marbella, likewise shines and gains sympathy in the role of rejected Thuy. He portrays a real undying love for Kim and Saigon/> enabling you to feel for his character. Lara Pulver plays Chris' wife Ellen with ease. It is not an easy role to carry off as your sympathy lies with Kim. But Pulver manages to make you understand that Ellen is an innocent blindly caught in the middle of a love triangle.  

The songs have become classics and they remain as moving as they were when you first heard them. "Movie In My Mind" still has the power to make an audience cry early on within the narrative. "Why God Why?" also moves you as it highlights the couples' love in a world gone mad.  Even "Bui Doi", previously a bit too earnest now seems more measured thanks to John Partridge's superb delivery.

This excellent touring show proves beyond doubt that the heat is still definitely on in Saigon/>. The denouement remains as heartbreaking as ever as does the show itself. See it and weep!

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From This Author Glenn Meads

Living in Manchester, Glenn writes for covering Salford, Manchester and Bolton. He also teaches Media, Film and English. His favourite writers are Arthur Miller, (read more...)