Through many years of visiting tour productions of major Musicals, all too often, provincial audiences have been dealt the thin end of the wedge, with tired performances, sapped energy and sub-standard production quality, leaving audiences with a taste of “we’re not as important as the West End” in their throats.
NONE of this applies to “Miss Saigon” in The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, where an immensely talented cast drew the audience into a spectacular, heart-wrenching, emotional journey that was complimented by a stunning technical exhibition of staging, lighting and special effects.
The futility, pain, torture and de-humanisation that became the recognisable face of the Vietnam war, were vividly represented in Boublil and Schonberg’s masterpiece, by a company who suffused their characters with the most affecting realism. From the powerful front-line to each and every member of the various ensembles, every performance was totally believable, intensely sincere and delivered with energy and passion.
The recreation of Saigon in 1975 was sexual, vivid and disturbing, with the ensemble of prostitute slaves selling their wares to the GI’s, with the hope of buying their escape from their putrid environment. This was highlighted most affectingly by Na-Young Jeon’s touching rendition of “Movie in my mind”, as Gigi, but it was Sooha Kim in the role of Kim who won the hearts of the audience as her life and hopes and dreams were first elevated and then crushed by the reality of her situation. Here was a performance of dynamic proportions, with a distraught mother devoting her love and her life, to ensure the security of her child. Her powerful vocals were infused with emotion and desperation.
The helplessness of Ellen was convincingly created by Zoe Doano, as an unintentional victim of the story. She gave sincerity and devotion to “I Still Believe” and her dramatic quality was excellent in the emotionally charged “Room 317”.
The passion between Kim and Chris, perfectly played by Ashley Gilmour, was palpable, as their bodies and their vocals sublimely combined, giving intense ardour to their delivery of “Sun and Moon” and “The Last Night of The World”. As a man caught between his dreams and his nightmares, Ashley conveyed the tragedy of this poignant and unsustainable romance.
There was a highly believable transformation in Ryan O’Gorman’s John, from the aggressive, heartless soldier of his war experiences, to the guilt ridden humanist of the post war era, with his delivery of “Bui Doi” accentuating the realisation of the degradation of war.
The multifaceted character of The Engineer was superbly presented by Red Concepción, giving vibrant energy and comedy, showmanship and cruelty in equal measure to his role. Frighteningly uncaring as a pimp, passionately aroused by his ambitions and sympathetically desperate in his failures, this was a performance of immense versatility and colour.
Ho Chi Minn City in April of 1978 was “owned” by a powerful and authoritative performance from Gerald Santos as Thuy. He was aided in no small measure by the dynamic and spine-tingling choreography of the Vietnamese Army, performed with assured excellence by a robust and foot-perfect ensemble. Thuy, putting his head to the gun of Chris in an act of defiance during the Intervention, was a masterful moment of theatre that encapsulated his strength of character.
But if the performers touched our hearts, it was the technical team behind this production who attacked all our other senses with a thrilling display of theatrical magic. It’s easy to point at the helicopter as a stunning effect, which of course, it was, but the atmospheres created by a superbly constructed set, a thoughtful and sensitive lighting plot, perfectly pitched sound effects, and a dazzling display of costuming, all gelled together to give the audience the true sense of being a part of the action, enveloped by their surroundings. The technical and visual presentation, alone, was worth the ticket price.
This is a performance that should not be missed.