One of the best shows on in Sydney at the moment Packemin’s production of MISS SAIGON is both lyrical and chilling, explosively powerful and softly haunting .
Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, the team who brought us Les Miserables (and yes you can hear similarities in the score, which at times is quite operatic) this is an updated version of Madame Butterfly set during the Vietnam War featuring a rather operatic dose of lyrical romance, passion biting wit, politics and corruption. The show ran on Broadway, and in London, for over a decade and has had major productions world wide.
Set in 1975, during the last days of the American occupation of Vietnam, MISS SAIGON tells the dramatic, moving story of a young Vietnamese girl, Kim (Vivien Emsworth) and an American GI, Chris (Haydan Hawkins) whose lives briefly, magically intersect ; a moment that changes their lives forever, especially when they are catastrophically torn apart by war.
Under Neil Gooding and Ylaria Rodgers’s superlative direction with a very strong cast it is at times bright, bold and colourful, tightly choreographed and sometimes very visually dramatic. Technically, the production crew were excellent The set design (Neil Shotter) with its fluid scene changes from neon lights of the garish bar to bamboo textured slats, or wire fences for example, is excellent.
The Morning of the Dragon scene, with its HUGE cast (yes including a dragon and martial arts allusions) of the menacing masked army invading the stage with their guns and the red lighting is both thrilling and chilling.
As with Les Miserables with its barricades and Phantom of the Opera and its chandelier, what everyone wants to know is ‘How are they going to do the helicopter?’ I won’t spoil it, but will say that the iconic helicopter scene (Fall of Saigon) is sensational. Lighting effects by Sean Clarke are tremendous throughout. The orchestra under maestro Peter Hayward elegantly, lushly soars and sparkles, while rumbling ominously where appropriate.
The cynical, slippery,world weary , manipulative French/Vietnamese Engineer was played with relish by Marcus Rivera who had the audience eating out of his hand. Most of the time he puts on a brave, flashy face (‘speaking Uncle Ho, thinking Uncle Sam’) acting as pimp for the girls at the bar he runs , but secretly he wants to escape to America. His The American Dream with its high- stepping showgirls brought the house down.
Leading lady Vivien Emsworth as Kim was excellent, giving a haunting rendition of the role. The show is sort of presented as cyclical, with her first appearance almost ghost like, in very similar clothes to what she wears at the finale, making the show feel like it is a collection of her memories.
Emsworth gives a very strong performance and we follow her journey from relatively innocent country girl, to bar girl, to steely, determined young mother who, having experienced true love, sacrifices herself for her son .The wedding scene is delicate and lyrical.
For most of the show her ‘otherness’ is emphasised and distinguishes her from the other women as she wears a modest, white cheongsam rather than the raunchier, more revealing clothes the other bar girls wear.
Haydan Hawkins as our leading man Chris was splendid. Tall, blonde and muscular he has an imposing Presence and terrific voice. His time with Kim was unexpected magic but the war and events intervene ( Why, God,Why ?).
Chris is presented as a very likeable but flawed character who courageously accepts and deals nobly with the consequences of his actions. We see how Chris’ falling for Kim creates massive problems. Does he tell Ellen about Kim? Will he ever see Kim again?
Chris’ tall,blonde and leggy American wife Ellen, as wholesome as apple pie,who has to deal with what happened to Chris in Vietnam, was strongly played by Ashleigh Taylor. There is a marvellous ‘Kim and Ellen’ duet in Act 2 that’s very moving.
Chris’ stalwart friend John was terrifically played by Kyle Sapsford. His show-stopping number is the stirring, heartbreaking Bu Doi with splendid male choir and a backdrop of shattering war photos. Thuy, the man Kim is locked into an arranged marriage with, was menacingly, ominously played by David Ouch, though, at times, we feel sympathetic towards him.
‘The heat is on in Saigon’ (aka Parramatta) – was a riveting , engrossing, extremely moving night of musical theatre.
Running time allow approximately 2 hrs and 45 minutes including one interval.
Packemin’s MISS SAIGON by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil is playing at Riverside Theatres until August 12.