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Ive seen Miss Saigon three times - but have never reviewed it before. I recently watched Les Miserables, and whilst i did love it.... it was no Miss Saigon. Therefore i felt compelled to review it to ensure that Musical Lovers everywhere look out for it when it nexts tours. I can assure you that you wont be disappointed by this production. Miss Saigon is the heart rendering story of Kim - a young bar girl struggling to survive the Vietnam war with no family. She falls in love with and American GI Chris - who is dragged from her life abruptly one evening. We then follow Kims struggle as she is trying to retrace her true love. I wont tell you too much about the story, i wouldnt want to ruin it! But i can assure you that you will undoubtedly love it. Ive lucky enough to watch this with John Barrowman and Lea Salonga as the leads - but i can assure you that you would love it no matter who played these incredible parts. The songs are moving and touching, with some elements of humour and some massively powerful words. Please please watch this if it ever tours in your area..... its the best show you will ever see!!
I live near the Palace theatre – so near, in fact, that you can see the immense clock tower from my kitchen. In the middle of the night, when the rest of that area of the city is plunged into darkness, I can usually find my way home by aiming for the bright, shining red letters that spell out its name. In short, it’s my local theatre when I’m in Manchester. At the moment, Miss Saigon is showing there about 8 times a week (6 x evenings and 2 matinees). It’s been on since last November, and will continue to show until June, and I saw it for the first time last weekend. Not the first time here, you understand, but the first time ever. I’ve seen a lot of musicals in my time, and danced a handful or so, but Miss Saigon has never appeared in that list. The most I know is one song a friend had for her song and dance solo for a while. Not much then. I would have gone and seen it a long time ago, but it never really appealed. I didn’t know that much about it, apart from the fact that it was set in Vietnam around the time of the war, and that it was a musical. An odd combo – since when was a war something to sing and dance about? Anyway, some tickets came my way and I leapt at the chance to go – I might not have chosen it, but I never say no to a night out at the theatre – and I’m so glad I did. It was, in a word, fantastic. ~~ The Story ~~ Based on Madame Butterfly, which in turn is based on Madame Chrysantheme, Miss Saigon is a love story with a difference. Kim, our lead, is the latest to be added to the sleazy Engineer’s bar-girl dancer troupe at his Dreamland club, frequented mainly by American Marines. At 17, she’s the youngest performer, and the one who feels most out of place. As an orphan who has fled her home town, however, it’s one of the few options open to her. During a mock beauty pageant to claim the “coveted” title of, ahem, “Miss Saigon” , Kim catches the eye of Chris, one of the soldiers. The girls are all for sale, or rather rent for the night, and as a present, his friend John buys her for Chris. He soon realises that she’s not like the other girls except in one respect - she dreams of a man who will not kill and will keep her safe, which is fair enough, right? As the story progresses, Kim and Chris grow closer, physically and emotionally, and when, as always happens, they are torn apart, she is devastated. We are whisked into the future, but through a number of flashbacks years later, we learn what really happened back then, and it all falls into place. There are complications in the form of extra spouses and fiancées (don’t you just hate it when that happens?), not to mention bad people acquiring too much power (yes, Thuy, that would be you) and horribly old fashioned customs and laws that to be honest, no one really wants to abide by. The one thing that really surprised me was the last exchange between Kim and Thuy when she showed guts I’d never have believed she had. Go girl. Many years later, a number of the Americans return to Vietnam and reunions, whether wanted or not, are made. The ending is not at all what I would have expected but brings out Chris’s true feelings, and is probably best for all of them, especially Tam (Kim’s son), in the long run. (I know this is semi-vague, but I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. For a really detailed description, have a look at www.miss-saigon.com/musical/story/ ) ~~ The Production ~~ Miss Saigon is performed in two acts, with a 20 min interval in-between at the Palace. The first act takes us up to April 1978, and the second one starts 5 months later in September. The production took about 3 hours with the first half slightly longer than the 2nd (it has 14 numbers compared to 10 in the latter). There was some fantastic scenery being used throughout and no hick-ups where pieces crash into each other or fall of the stage. While this is always funny to watch, sometimes you just want a smooth running production. Two things which particularly stick in my mind are the hotel bedroom in Saigon – so stereotypically sterile and uniform it’s not funny, although probably what most hotels there are now like since Holiday Inn etc came along – and the blinds they has all around the stage. Ikea stock if ever I saw them. Pretty though. There was also a funky helicopter which came in to land on top of, well, a filing cabinet. Still, when you don’t have an airfield or landing pad, I guess you just have to improvise. The sound could almost have rivalled the Printworks’ Dolby for surround-value, and the lighting was always spot on if you’ll pardon the pun. Two niggly points though – because nothing in life is ever perfect, and moreover, because I like the word niggly. 1. Tam cannot be more than maybe 2 and a half years old, seeing as we see his visibly un-pregnant mother at one point, and then him running around 3 years later, but the kid they had has to be the biggest toddler I’ve ever seen. Probably because he’s about 7 years old. 2. There are a number of corpses lying about at times in the show, but one did not seem to be behaving. To me “dead” implies “no longer able to move”, but he didn’t seem to think so. He rolled his head to have a look at what was going on upstage and then rolled it back again to look at the audience. He might as well have got up, gone to get a drink, maybe had something to eat and come back again for all the deadness in him. When I think of the many hours I spent dead on stage, bared from so much as blinking (hence the fact I started closing my eyes to die), I scorn his un-professionalism… :p ~~ The Theatre + Extras ~~ The Palace isn’t all that large as theatres go , but it’s quite nice inside. A lot of the staff are students from the local universities and music school, and seem to have a real interest in theatre. In the foyer programs (£3) and various sweets and drinks were available, and at the interval small tubs of Ben and Jerry’s (Strawberry, Chocolate and Vanilla) were on sale priced at a shocking £2 each – I never understand why theatres think it’s ok to charge such exorbitant prices for such small things. Quy would have given this op 5 stars based on the ice cream (he should know, he had every flavour) but he’s not writing it, so tough. Although not on the night we went, I’m told Miss Saigon souvenirs are usually onsale – these include CDs and t-shirts, and can also be ordered direct from the manufacturers using the form in the program. ~~ The Cast ~~ The majority of the cast aren’t native English types, but contrary to what you would expect, they aren’t all Oriental either. American Chris is played by Swedish Niklas Andersson and John by the gorgeous, gorgeous Canadian Kingsley Eggs among others. Kim is most often played by Joanna Ampil who has toured with Miss Saigon in everywhere from Australia to America, not to mention her native Manila. In fact, the only important character played by a Brit is Ellen, the American wife, who has, among other things, appeared in Eastenders and London’s Burning. So a proper Brit then…. There are cast bios in the program as usual, and I just love reading them, not least because I usually find at least one person who grew up near me or whose sister competed against me in dancing at some point. Despite their diverse nationalities, the cast were well suited to their roles, with the Swedish Americans sounding American and not Swedish, and so on. They could sing and dance and act. What more could you ask for? ~~ The Statistics ~~ Miss Saigon has been put on in more than 75 citi es, in 14 countries world-wide. It has been performed in 8 languages - English, Japanese, Hungarian, German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, and Polish. To date more than 28 million people have been to see it. Which is, y’know, quite a few. ~~ The Press Take On The Show ~~ "What a brilliant evening this is!" - Daily Express "John Napier's amazing designs, complete with helicopter landing on the US embassy roof" - Daily Telegraph [Ah, so it was a the US embassy roof, being cunningly played by a filing cabinet. My mistake…] "This show is clearly a winner….brilliantly staged…terrific acting…brilliant" - Manchester Evening News “We waited for MISS SAIGON for a decade. And it was worth it …. it's the best I've seen in three decades of theatre" - Wigan Reporter ~~ The Contact Info ~~ Tickets for Miss Saigon can be booked through Ticketmaster on 0161 242 2524 or www.ticketmaster.co.uk. The theatre is on Oxford Rd opposite the Corner House Cinema, and two minutes from Oxford Rd Station. There’s a taxi rank directly outside, and several carparks nearby, plus some free on-street parking. ~~ The Verdict ~~ Without a doubt, a fantastic show. The story, the cast, the setting, all were prefect. I only wish I'd discovered it sooner.
I went to see Miss Saigon on Saturday 19th January 2002, at the palace theatre in Manchester. We had to go to the matinee because all of the evening performances were sold out. The palace theatre itself has recently undergone a development costing in excess of 300,000. There is a modern box office, different signage and front façade, new canopy, another kiosk and merchandise positions and a fully re-fitted pit bar. The surroundings looked and felt very elegant. The programme cost just £3.00 and they were on sale just as you walk through the entrance. The bar prices were a little steeper than I’d imagined them to be charging £1.00 for a small bottle of coca-cola. We sat in the stalls, which made us fairly level with the stage and suitably seated to see the performance at its best angle. The people behind the stage and responsible for the technical side of things are as follows: Alain Boublil – Book, lyrics and original French lyrics Claude-Michel Schonberg – Conception, book and music Richard Maltby Jnr – Lyricist Cameron Mackintosh – Producer Nicholas Hytner – Director Bob Avian – Musical staging John Napier – Production Designer Andreane Neofitou – Costume Designer Background For those of you who aren’t familiar with where the tale comes from, A man by the name of John Luther Long had a story published in Century Magazine back in1897; That story was called Madame Butterfly. It is believed that Long had read a well-liked novel of that period called Madame Chrysantheme, which was written by a naval officer, Piere Loti. It was based on loti’s stay in Japan and told of his brief contract marriage to a geisha girl in Nagasaki. The feature in century magazine was such a success that American playwright and producer David Belasco created a one-act play also called Madame Butterfly. It premiered in New York in1900 and took the public by stor m; a month later it was taken to London where it opened at the Duke of York’s theatre. Puccini was in London for the opening of TOSCA and went to see the play. He immediately realized it’s potential as an opera. On 17 February 1904 Puccini’s Madame Butterfly premiered at La Scala, Milan. Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schonberg were first inspired by a photo, taken a few weeks before the fall of Saigon it was a picture of a woman giving up her baby at a Saigon airport in the anticipation of a new life for her child. The Performance The opening scene is set in a seedy looking bar/brothel in Saigon in 1975; the Engineer (played by Leo Tavarro Valdez) provides the comic relief the entire show. He is a great singer and has an extremely expressive way of performing (very camp.) He opens with a song, backed up by the girls and the marines, called “The heat is on in Saigon”. The dancing that the girls do is supposed to be sleazy, and there are some quite sordid routines in this part of the show, Kim (played by Ima Castro) is dragged into view of the audience, the actress who plays her is tiny, almost childlike and immediately you feel afraid for her. Her voice is amazingly big considering and she plays the part extremely well. Chris (played by Niklas Andersson), the lead male role in the show also has an incredibly powerful voice, he is a shy soldier and doesn’t seem interested in the Vietnamese nightlife, and however his friends decide to set him up anyway. The whole cast performed wonderfully and I was entranced the whole way through the show. The outline to the story is that the two of them fall in love, but unfortunately they are separated through no fault of their own. After many years of waiting they are re-united and the ending is not a happy one. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, I could very easily sit here and type out practically the whole thing because that is how grea t I thought it was, it has stuck in my head, every song, each scene, all filled with emotion and depth, but then that would spoil it for you, wouldn’t it? The staging and the effects of the lights and props were spectacular also, at one point a helicopter, full scale to a real one was in front of us, you have to see it to believe it. So I’ll finish just by saying that even if you’re not into musicals, give this one a try as you might surprise yourself.