Newest Review: ... 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 you... more
Movie In My Mind
Date: 11/05/02, updated on 10/02/04 (168 review reads)
Advantages: Those Songs, Those performers, That helicopter
MISS SAIGON- THE PALACE THEATRE, MANCHESTER
Leo Tavarro Valdez, Joanna Ampil, Niklas Andersson, Kingsley Leggs, Nicky Adams, Robert Vicencio
By Claude- Michel Schonberg. Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jnr and Alain Boubil
Palace Theatre, Thursday 22nd November 2001
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!).
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Thanks for reading. Have a good weekend.