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Palace Theatre, Manchester, Oxford Street, Manchester, Lancashire, M1 6FT, 0161 228 6257

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    2 Reviews
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      11.05.2002 05:12
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      Miss Saigon left the West End of London with a gaping hole in 1998. But never fear- the show with 'that helicopter' and a heart the size of a theatre is back. Currently wowing crowds in Manchester until June 29- Miss Saigon has lost none of the West End extravagance and looks set to leave the North with great theatrical memories for a long time to come. MISS SAIGON- THE PALACE THEATRE, MANCHESTER Cast ==== Leo Tavarro Valdez, Joanna Ampil, Niklas Andersson, Kingsley Leggs, Nicky Adams, Robert Vicencio Music ===== By Claude- Michel Schonberg. Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jnr and Alain Boubil Opened ====== Palace Theatre, Thursday 22nd November 2001 Website: http://www.miss-saigon.com Miss Saigon is inspired by Madame Butterfly. Alain Boubil and Claude Michel Schonberg were also inspired by a photo which they came across of a woman giving up her child at Saigon airport. The woman hoped the boy would have a better life in America. The two writers then put pen to paper. In 1989 Miss Saigon opened in London to rave reviews. It remained a mainstay in the West End until 1998. Missed by musical fans all over - it has now resurfaced on tour starring two of the stars who graced the stage in the West End version. But has it lost any of its appeal? In a word, no. Right from the opening moments of this excellent theatrical production you realise that you are watching something quite special. You are taken back in time to 1975 in war torn Saigon. Sleazy clubs dominated by tourists fill the air with an edgy cloud and the colour of American dollars. A notorious club owner dreams that the dollars will mount up and lead him to a new life in America to live out his dream existance. Known as The Engineer (Leo Tavarro Valdex) this crook would sell his own soul and yours to get what he wanted. Kim (Joanna Ampil) is a new dancer in the club. The unique selling point in whi
      ch the engineer wants to promote Kim is that she's a virgin. Kim also dreams of a new life away from leering men and into the arms of someone who will take care of her without the aid of a pole to dance around. The club is packed with sex hungry marines. Their needs are quite simple. They want to get laid and drunk. GI, Chris seems different. Like Kim he is not proud of what he has done with his life. The guilt of Vietnam weighs heavy on his mind. Their eyes meet across a crowded strip joint and instead of reaching for his wallet- Kim reaches for his heart. Chris realises that his most vivid memory of Saigon is his time with the enigmatic Kim. He adores her. She feels the same way. But the war is not over. Chris and Kim get separated. Years later Kim dreams of her GI. Will he return? Like all classic love stories- complications ensue and a misunderstanding of epic proportions results in Chris marrying another. But Chris realises that something belonging to him remains in Saigon. Haunted by his past he returns to find Kim with his wife. Miss Saigon is a visual feast that will leave your eyes blinking for days! The set is one of the best you will see. Many have been gobsmacked by that helicopter. But there is so much more for the eye to see with emotive songs to match. During the storming number "Movie In My Mind" your sympathies are with the call girls on stage. Each one does not want to work in the club and their sadness is portrayed beautifully through the power of this tremendous show stopping number. "Why God Why" features Chris the GI questioning his role in Saigon and at the same time celebrating his love for Kim. "I Still Believe" is an excellent duet between the two women in the GI's life. Joanna Ampil excels herself here. She remains touching throughout this song even though you start to realise that her character's optimism will soon turn to heartache of tragic proportions. Rare as it i
      s- Miss Saigon does not really contain any duff songs. At times the lyrics do make you smile with their simplicity in rhyming words like "Big Mac" but you can see why this was done as each character based in Saigon dreams of America of being their only way out of the after effects of war. Each song is tinged with an edge of sadness. Even The Engineer's humourous number "American Dream" has an edge of poignancy as you soon realise that his vision and desire to succeed may soon be quashed by the sound of gun fire or a bomb. There was a real fear that because this is a touring musical that the production values would be below par and that the performances would be very workmanlike. Often the regions do have to put up with third rate versions of West End hits. But that is all about to change if Miss Saigon is anything to go by. Leo Tavvaro Valdez oozes sleaze as The Engineer and if he looks at home in the role- it's hardly surprising- he appeared in Miss Saigon in the West End. Joanna Ampil displays vulnerbility in spades and a sheer determination to give herself a better chance at life. She gives each song a teary eyed feel. Some members of the audience only had to listen to her opening words of a song and they were sobbing. She does have this extraordinary mesmerising effect on you. Her chemistry with her leading man (understudy Alexander Ycke on the night I was there) is the pivot on which the play hangs. Luckily it is one which both performers lift high into the air rather than floundering in the stalls. Nicky Adams is also worth mentioning in the difficult role of Ellen. She is the other woman - the new wife. Audience sympathies are never with her because they know Kim and Chris as lovers. But Ms Adams still manages to break your heart with her extraordinary vocals on "I Still Believe." The music is Miss Saigon is also worth mentioning. Epic in its scope with emotions uncovered with every note- you really wil
      l find yourself moved by the opening bars of each song before any of the great performers utter a word. It's that good. Miss Saigon is a musical with a message. It leaves you with the feeling that as each country goes to war whether it be on terrorism or over what land belongs to whom- the people who live in the war torn areas are mere bystanders. Unlike many musicals though this never comes across as trite or hackneyed. That is down to the powerful story and the overall package. It also explores the neglect of these areas once the propaganda war is over. Add a beautiful love story between two people from completely different cultures but with one thing in common - their love and respect for each other and you are left with something quite special. If you don't live in Manchester- Miss Saigon's next stop is Scotland. I, personally would travel the globe to see a musical of such rare beauty. The helicopter is the only real gimmick in this epic tale. But don't worry - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang it ain't. The difference being that this is a show filled to the brim with emotion as opposed to empty hype and a flying car. Excuse me, I'm filling up reliving the closing moments! (lol!). BOOKING INFO ============ 08705 500 800 (No Booking Fee) www.ticketmaster.co.uk CLOSES IN MANCHESTER 29 JUNE NEXT STOP- EDINBURGH Thanks for reading. Have a good weekend. Glenn

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        07.02.2002 02:44
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        Those were the last words of the show. Not just a simple ‘no’ or a direct ‘no’ but a ‘no’ so full of pain and agony that you could not fail to be moved by it. A ‘no’ I felt like shouting as I could have happily sat through the entire performance again… Miss Saigon is a remarkable musical/opera – I have never experienced a show quite like it. The passion, the drive, the energy, the simple nightmarish consequences of actions we make – this was a first for me. Normally, I am quite reserved with my emotions – I’ve seen Les Mis and managed to hold back the sniffles ‘till half way through the first act but Miss Saigon caught me unaware in the sixth song of the show and me, a 25 year old bloke, was blubbering his heart out… But enough of that and onto the show:- Miss Saigon is currently running at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until the summer. The Palace Theatre itself has undergone and overhaul, both backstage and front of house and looks fantastic. The Theatre itself is easy to get to both by car, follow signs for the G-MEX and then the NCP Palace car park, and by train – Oxford Road Station is just a short walk away. ***THE BACKGROUND*** Miss Saigon is written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, the creative team behind Les Miserables and Martin Guerre. It has its roots in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, which in turn is taken from a play from the 1900’s, which itself is taken from a novel called Madame Chrysantheme written by a French Naval Officer called Piere Loti in 1897. So you can see it’s had roots that go a long way back! Updated to a period of the last century and a war famous for being a complete and utter failure and mistake. If you know your history you’ve probably guessed from the title that it is set in Saigon, Vietnam in the 1970’s. Specifically 1975 – 3 weeks before the
        Americans pulled out and the city fell to the Viet Cong. ***THE STORY*** The story focuses on a young girl called Kim, who comes to Saigon in 1975 in search of a new life after the attack on her village and the death of her entire family. We are introduced to her at her first night’s work as a prostitute in Saigon. The other girls are jealous of her and a competition is set up to see which girl will be crowned Miss Saigon in a demeaning ‘beauty’ contest designed to get the attention of the American GI’s. The prostitutes are all looked after by The Engineer – a half French, half Vietnamese pimp who has a dream to make it to America. Two GI’s called John and Chris come into the bar that night and as a means of cheering his friend up, John buys Kim’s services for the night and presents her to Chris. Chris is a naive, young soldier who through one night with Kim sees something in her that he has needed – an anchor in the storm of war. They marry at a secret service in their room, before Thuy – who Kim was betrothed to through her parents – turns up to take her away. After a tense stand off Thuy leaves and Chris promises to take Kim away to a new life The story now moves forward three years to 1978. Saigon has fallen to the Viet Cong and has been re-named Ho Chi Minh city in honour of their leader. Thuy – now risen to the heady ranks of the military – orders The Engineer to hunt Kim out and bring him to her so that he can take back what was promised to him. The Engineer does just this and in a moment of fury Kim shoots Thuy dead after he tries to kill her three year old son called Tam. The product of her passion with Chris, Kim dreams of taking Tam away from the madness of Vietnam to the safety of the USA – she’s swears that she would give her life to her child. The action moves away from ho Chi Minh city to Altlanta and a conference set up to debate th
        e problems of the Bui-Doi, the children, fathered by GI’s, that nobody in Vietnam will take care of. The debate is headed by John, who tells Chris that Kim is still alive and now has his son. Chris is pleased to know Kim is still alive, but since being back in America he has been married to another woman, Ellen, for two years. Chris tells Ellen and the three of them return to Vietnam in search of Kim. Kim, haunted by the guilt of killing Thuy, relives the night of the Fall of Saigon and her separation from Chris, before excitedly getting ready to meet him, not knowing he has a wife in tow. The Engineer convinces her to go to the hotel to see Chris, but he is not there – he is out searching for her – so she comes face to face with Ellen. The two talk and in a moment of anger Kim tells Ellen that her and Chris can take Tam to a better life and she runs out of the room. Chris returns and after a confrontation with Ellen they decide to support Tam from America and leave to tell Kim their decision. ****SPOILER WARNING***** Please if you DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING – SKIP TO THE NEXT SECTION NOW. Chris, Ellen and John come to see Kim, but she has already decided what she is going to do. After dressed Tam up as an American boy she gives him over to The Engineer who rushes outside with him to greet Chris. Kim stand up in her room, walks to the bed, draws the curtain and a gun shot is heard, before her body slumps to the floor through the curtain. As a sacrifice to her son and in honour of her promise to give her life to her child she kills herself so that her son would be free to start a new life in America. The show ends with Chris’ anguished cry as he holds Kim’s dead body in his arms. ***THE CAST*** Cameron Mackintosh has managed to assemble the most amazing cast of performers from all over the world for the UK tour of Miss Saigon. In a touring company we have the people who have pla
        yed the lead roles in the original West End production. Leo Tavarro Valdez (The Engineer) played this role for 4 years in the West End and is an excellent performer. The character of The Engineer is comic relief in a story that is really quite tragic and therefore, is in a similar vein to the Thenardiers in Les Miserables – popping up at just the right moment to give you a laugh. He plays the part with great energy – at one time seemingly pleasant then in the drop of a hat, manipulating and threatening. Joanna Ampil (Kim) has played this role in the West End and also Australia. She is a beautiful actress and brings the tragic role of Kim to life in all that she does, flitting from joy and love, to hate and sorrow so easily. Quite outstanding. Alexander Lycke played Chris at the performance I saw and, as with the other two leads, was exceptional at what he did. I have never heard anyone on stage put over so much anguish and regret in his voice as in his performance. Brilliant as the young GI facing up to the consequences of his actions. Nicky Adams plays Ellen, a role that is only really fleshed out in the letter part of the second half, but plays the wife who is struggling to comes to terms with her husband’s past very well. Her only solo song ‘Now that I’ve seen Her’ is amazing and allows a full range of pitch and emotion. ***THE SET*** The set is, to put it in one word, outstanding. You’ve probably only ever heard about the helicopter but there is so much more to this production that just that. The empty stage is surrounded by 19 venetian blinds that open and close to different heights to set mood and too allow other pieces of the set to move into position. The lighting on these blinds is fantastic and they can be made to look old and tattered or brand new depending on how the lights are shone on them. The set moves on and off the stage so efficiently
        it makes the set from ‘Phantom’ look almost asthmatic! A piece from the back of the stage will move forward and join with tow bits coming from either side to make a bedroom with a balcony – it really has to be seen to be believed! One of the most impressive things about the set was that when someone was in the foreground singing and action in the background was fading away – it seemed through the lighting and the movement of the set itself to be miles away. I don’t think I can describe it better than that. The streets of Saigon are filled with garish neon signs inviting passers-by to walk in and try the girls. A political parade introduces us to the newly named Ho Chi Minh city by virtue of an energetic dance routine involving back flips and Oriental Choreography with actors holding huge signs emblazoned with a picture of the leader himself, before an 18ft tall statue of Ho Chi Minh is unveiled at the back of the stage. The famous ‘helicopter’ scene portrays the fall of Saigon and is complex – flitting in an instant across the stage from Kim’s room to Chris inside the American Embassy to a crowd of people outside the gates, then back inside the gates, then outside again as the 8,700lb, 75% lifesize helicopter lands, the GI’s pile in and it takes off again. An amazing set-piece worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster. All credit to the design team headed up by John Napier (Cats, Starlight and Les Mis also to his credits!) for creating a believable piece of action in the live arena. But there’s not only the set – the sounds of Saigon filter in from time to time in the bustling streets and rice fields outside the city. The opening of the show has a sun-rise played out through the lighting. There are so many little things that add up to the grand scale of the show itself. ***THE SONGS*** Boubill and Schonberg have done it again – no
        t completely re-visited their earlier works, but have been greatly influenced by the cultures and the music of those cultures they are seeking to portray. Unlike Lloyd-Webbers hummable tunes there is nothing here like that. I’m normally good at picking up tunes but I’ve only managed one line from one song that I annoyed my car passenger with by singing it over and over again. But this does not demean the value of the music and lyrics. They have managed to get across in song so many different emotions and feelings that I simply cannot do it all justice. The highlights of the songs are in my opinion, the following:- The Heat is on in Saigon – Great opening number, introducing us to the girls and the GI’s. Fast and pacey and lots of ladies in their underwear! Why God Why? – This is song number six, the one that made me cry first. Sung by Chris after he has slept with Kim he is simply seeking what God’s will is in all that is going on. How can he, a simple GI, change this poor girls life. “Why God? Show your hand. Why me? What’s your plan? I can’t help her – no-one can. I liked my mem’ries as they were, But now I’ll leave remembering her.” Breathtaking. The Last Night of the World – sung by Kim and Chris after their marriage – a soaring ballad, great harmonies – makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. I still Believe – sung by Kim and Ellen. The staging of this is fantastic. Kim is in her hiding place in Saigon and above and slightly set back is Chris and Ellen’s bedroom in Atlanta. Two women both singing about the man they love. Bui Doi – sung by John at the conference in Atlanta. The song is about the children fathered by GI’s but left in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Behind John a screen shows images of those children, using what looked like o
        ld TV news footage. Very good impact, although I suspect the cynical would disapprove of this obvious heartstring tugging – but it makes an amazing political statement. I only wonder how it want down in America. “They’re called Bui Doi – the Dust of Life, Conceived in hell and born in strife. They are the living reminders of the good we failed to do, We can’t forget, must not forget, that they are our children too.” The Confrontation – Ellen, Chris and John all have an honesty session. Never has arguing sounded so good when sung! The American Dream – The Engineer’s big finale piece before the ending talks of his dream of a new life in America and sees him surrounded by dancing girls and guys and riding an 11ft Cadillac that looks surprisingly full sized by virtue of stage and lighting trickery, before it all vanishes before his eyes. ***THE CONCLUSION*** I hadn’t intended this opinion to be a long as it has turned out to be! I am sorry about that, but Miss Saigon is a truly breathtaking and remarkable show that warrants more than a passing mention in the pages of dooyooland. Yes, in places it undeniably goes for the heart and tugs relentlessly at it until you break and some of you will absolutely hate that. That’s fine – I know it’s not for everyone. But I cannot get past the scale of the show and how every piece of music, lyrics, set, sound, lighting, costume etc fits into place to take you to Saigon. The Fall of Saigon alone is worth seeing – instilling a real sense of fear and panic, the likes of which I’ve not experienced as a member of the audience before. If you asked me I’d tell you to go and see it now – but you’ve probably guessed that already. But if you do go – take a box of tissues, and allow every part of the show to move you, even if it feels likes the emoti
        on is being thrown at you like a sledgehammer. Only the hardest of hearts will fail to be touched by the Kim’s story. ***OTHER INFO*** Showing at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 29th June 2002. Bookings: 0161 242 2503 Group Bookings: 0161 245 6666. www.ticketmaster.co.uk www.miss-saigon.com

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