Show: Miss Saigon
Venue: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Date: 20th January 2018
Director: Laurence Connor
Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) & Alain Boubill (lyrics)
Producer: Sir Cameron Mackintosh
Starring: Sooha Kim (Kim), Red Concepción (The Engineer), Ashley Gilmour (Chris), Ryan O’Gorman (John) & Zoë Doano (Ellen)
My feelings about this show are pretty mixed. I’d definitely go as far as to say that I liked it, and am glad to have seen it, but wouldn’t say I loved it. Despite enjoying going to the theatre fairly often, my experience of musicals is admittedly somewhat lacking, but based on that limited experience, I’d say there are generally two types: A play with songs, as it were, in which the characters have normal conversations and the musical numbers are integrated into the story (akin to Singin’ in the Rain, which incidentally I saw and adored at the end of last year); and a continuous musically driven show, in which every single line is sung and accompanied by music, even simple exchanges between the more defined songs. Miss Saigon falls very firmly into the latter type, which as a concept just sadly doesn’t wholly work for me.
Personally, I find that when every single line is sung, the show can’t escape an inevitably cheesy feeling. I mean, nothing kills the tension of someone having a gun held to their head if their attacker is singing threats at them in a high falsetto… This is of course purely personal preference, and fans of this style of show will no doubt love Miss Saigon fall all its musical melodrama.
Aside from the structure, I had a few other slight niggles with the story itself. Namely, the insta-love between Kim and Chris (seriously, they made Romeo and Juliet’s romance look slow and considered). It was also a lot… let’s say… raunchier than I realised. I’m not a prude, but I knew very little about the story going in, and suffice it to say there were some children in the audience whose parents I suspect were feeling a tad awkward at certain moments.
But, I have to say that twenty minutes or so into the show, once I had settled into the swing of the characters literally singing everything at each other, I was really drawn in, and there was a lot to enjoy. Lead performer, Sooha Kim, was excellent as the story’s tragic heroine, and she was able to easily avoid the cheese-factor that can plague a lot of theatre-style singers (no offence intended to others, of course). Red Conceptión (what a fabulous name!) was also great, and added a brilliant note of humour throughout. Whilst the intermittent exchanges being sung may have niggled me, the stand-out, properly choreographed and clearly defined numbers were slick and performed wonderfully by all.
The set design was very good, and staging changes were handled effortlessly, but it was the sound design that really stood out to me – You really could believe that gunshots were ringing out and helicopters were looming overhead. I also have to give props to the orchestra (lead by James McKeon). As I said, the entire show (over two hours, excluding the interval) was constantly driven by music, with virtually no respite, and it was performed seamlessly.
The story in general I liked, and it certainly had some powerful moments. Though stylistically Miss Saigon may not have been my favourite kind of show, I could recognise and appreciate its appeal, and thought this particular production was put on to an incredibly high standard.