Review: Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre 23/01/16

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After my university exams, a trip to the theatre was a nice way to celebrate. Miss Saigon, although not top of my list, is closing next month and hence I wanted to see it before it went. Miss Saigon is a tragic yet heart warming romance about an American soldier (Chris) who falls in love with a local girl (Kim), whilst fighting in the Vietnam War. As the war ends, he tries to bring her back with him, but unfortunately fails. We learn later she was pregnant with his child. Chris finds out, but what Kim does not know is he is with someone else now. In the end, Kim wants the best life possible for her son and ends her own life in order for her son to live in the USA with Chris.

One of the first scenes started with ‘Dream Land’. You are straight away introduced to ‘The Engineer’ (Jon Jon Briones) who was absolutely fantastic! To my understanding, he has been in the role for a while and you could see why. In other words, he was made for the role through his witty comical quotes, deceitfulness and cowardly ways. Despite all of this, he was likable and I still managed to feel a hint of sympathy.

During the same scene, a shy girl ‘Kim’ (Tanya Manalang – Understudy) walked in to work for the first time. Her ability to portray so many emotions throughout was phenomenal – you could always feel her pain. This was in particular shown in ‘This Money’s Yours’, where the audience is informed of her past. I have to admit, that for most of the show, I did not realise it was Tanya performing because she was that good! I was excited to hear that an understudy was performing as from experience (although very little), the understudies have been just as good if not better than the principals. This was proven again!

We meet an American Solider called ‘Chris’ (Richard Carson – Understudy), who was spectacular! When he first appeared, I was unsure what to think – but then I was feeling lost. When it reached the second act, he took my breath away, particularly with ‘Kim’s Nightmare’. I could feel with all of my heart, the love he shared for Kim. As the show progressed, I could see the chemistry between Chris and Kim build. Richard once again proved that understudies are just as good as the principals!

Honourable mentions to ‘John’ (Hugh Maynard) and ‘Ellen’ (Siobhan Dillon) in particular to their vocals of ‘Bui Doi’ and ‘Maybe’ respectively, which blew me away. ‘Thuy’ (Sangwoong Jo) was enjoyable, but at times, I did not feel intimidated especially when he was supposed to be a high rank in the army.

As I briefly said earlier, I actually found myself lost for most of the first act. This was partly due to me feeling overwhelmed and the big jump in time from Chris in Vietnam, to him back in the USA with Ellen. At this time, I did not know that in the second act, the time gap would be shown. By the second act, everything fitted into place and I was able to appreciate it.

In the second act, there is one scene in particular I remember, where Chris is forced to get on the helicopter without Kim. A helicopter (prop), actually came down from the stage ceiling and landed. It looked magnificent and left me in shook for the rest of that scene! Not only that, but the scene itself it was full of emotion from leaving Kim behind and how they were both left in despair. It truly showed their love was real.

On occasions in the first act, I found the stage lighting to be too dark. Although I am sure this was meant to show the darkness found within war zones, it felt to the extent that I could not see what was on stage, but then again sitting in the Grand Circle would not have helped this. I do at this point want to give some credit to the Pit Band, who were on point and put on a great show themselves! The Ensemble were really underrated and deserved far more credit as they kept the show moving throughout.

Some of the scenes were historically powerful. This was by the very striking Vietnamese Army routines and the conditions you saw the population living in. The ending of the show was devastating and I do not think it is possible for anyone in the audience to not feel something. If you agreed with Kim’s decision or not, you could not help feeling distressed especially as throughout the show you loved her more and more as a character.

Miss Saigon is an absolute masterpiece and I would highly recommend it! It has a massive reputation and I can now see why. It saddens me to think its closing at the end of next month. It is such an emotional show of romance, which can quite easily overwhelm you and leave you in tears by the end. Nothing else I have ever seen has made me feel so many emotions in such a short amount of time. I guess it shows us the true power of love.