Book & Lyrics: Alain Boublil
Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg
Director: Laurence Connor
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Before the likes of Wicked or The Lion King, Miss Saigon stood as one of the West End’s epic musicals. Heavily influenced by Madame Butterfly and with the legendary creative team of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, it’s no wonder many adore this musical.
In many ways Miss Saigon‘s most significant asset is its set. The technical aspects, seamless in transition, are enriched perfectly by the deep reds and yellows of Bruno Poet’s lighting design. The effort in converting the famous helicopter scene for a touring production thoroughly deserves the round of applause it garnered.
But, Miss Saigon is a musical. The spectacle and technical achievements can speak for themselves, the score, however, leaves a little more to be desired. It’s safe to suggest Miss Saigon doesn’t live up to Schönberg and Boublil’s earlier musical masterpiece Les Misérables.
Vocally, every performer is outstanding. Red Concepción’s engineer is twistedly delicious, finding humour in a vile character. The American Dream is a stand-out musical moment, Concepción selling every line. The weakness of Kim is pure and honest. While we strive for interesting (especially Asian) female leads Miss Saigon doesn’t pander or bulk up its characters for the sake of appeasement. Sooha Kim’s heart-wrenching portrayal is fitting, always looking up to her male co-stars. Lower than them, laying on the ground, only ever striking out in the most desperate of times. It’s infuriating, but it’s honest. Her saviour in white, Chris, however, is only a stretch past a damp squib. Ashley Gilmour performs well, delivering real emotion during his numbers, but can only do so much with an uninteresting character.
Whilst it has unshackled itself from issues with racial casting, the infantilised fetishism of Asian woman and slight glossing over of Vietnamese stories still causes some discomfort with audiences. We want to discover more about these characters, but they are depicted on stage as mere background shadows. While songs such as The Movie in My Mind provide insights into characters such as Gigi, it’s just a pity we don’t follow more of their stories. It does, however, illustrate the uncomfortable truths of the story, shining a light on this horrific period in history and delivers a, not often seen, unhappy ending.
At its core, Miss Saigon is a champion crowd-pleaser. Delivering a whirlwind mixture of romance, sacrifice and brutality. It solidifies each point with its exceptional world building, one of the best in theatre, but it is often at the cost of the narrative. Regardless of one’s individual opinion of Miss Saigon‘s characters or score, it is without question a theatrical masterpiece.
Runs until 17 February 2018 and then continues touring | Image: Michael Le Poer Trench