Thursday, September 28

Miss Saigon – Crucible Theatre

Billed as Sheffield Theatre’s new production of Boublil and Schonberg’s Miss Saigon, this production marks my 40th visit to see this show. My first being back at Drury Lane in late 1989, and I have also been lucky enough to direct the show back in 2018, therefore, I would consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur. Yes, I am aware of the political issues that surround it, I am aware that creating a new production was met with anger from some, but I am also aware that highlighting issues allows the audience to formulate their own responses … our history is relevant to our future.

I have given myself a length of time to digest what I saw last night before reviewing this production. It is new, it is different, it is edgier, starker, less self-indulgent in its direction and more invested in its characters than any production that has gone before it and I loved it!

Based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, the sung through musical Miss Saigon tells the love story at the end of the Vietnam war. American GI Chris falls in love with new bar girl Kim, only for the pair to be torn apart at the political changes in Saigon. Chris promises to return and Kim waits. We are then transport forward in time to 3 years later where the intervening story is told in flashbacks and all results in its heart breaking conclusion. The role of the Engineer, a first as it is played by a female, is explored in much more detail in this new production and their story is as poignant as the star crossed lovers. There is so much about this production that is very right, and Directors Robert Hastie and Anthony Lau give us some exquisite staging and some of which is pure genius. A few things jar with me but the exquisitely excellent far outweigh the uncertainty.

The Designer Ben Stones’ lack of reliance on the lavish allows this production to find a new depth to the reality. The emptiness of the grey, grim thrust stage with only a large moving staircase throughout the majority of the show, screams out its harshness and the ever moving hope in the desperation of the hostile times as Saigon falls.  Costumes mirror this with only occasional splashes of colour. Some very original lighting by Jessica Han Yun, Video and Animation Designer Andrzej Goulding and sound Designer Mike Walker present some breath-taking moments and their contribution to the shows entirety should not be underestimated.  Also, this production can tour and fit in any size venue – a massive plus!

The star casting of Joanna Ampil as the female Engineer really does give the role a new perspective, and her skill as an actor never relies on the spectacle or comedic to get investiture of the audience. Her vocals are soaring and her acting through song is on point. However, the iconic American Dream missed the spot for me and jarred with the rest of the show, yes, it’s a dream sequence but the glitz and glitter felt off. Maybe it was a nod back to the original production but in the middle of emotionally charged scenes?

Jessica Lee’s Kim was a more edgy interpretation and her vulnerability less evident in the first Act, thus the concluding scenes lacked some of the required audience investment in the character. Lee’s vocals were superb and her Last Night of the World duet with Christian Maynard as Chris was beautiful. We meet a more empathic, Chris in this production with a desperation made clear in his performance and understanding of lyric added to by his blues/soul tonal quality.

Ethan Le Phong as Thuy is electric (as always) with stage presence and command in abundance. His opening movement work on ‘Morning of the Dragon’ was as captivating in its intensity as is his voice. The choreography by Jade Hackett in this newly imagined number was simply stunning and one of the highlights of the production for me. However, Thuy and Kim’s deaths and Kim’s Nightmare do not have the impact of previous productions and whilst they were innovative, they lacked the required resonance.

The stand out performer for me, is Shane O’Riordan as John, this young man held the audience in his hand every time he took to the stage. His interpretation of song and crystal clear sound was sublime. The opening of the second Act, a firm favourite, Bui Doi was directorially genius. Showing John’s journey after, and effects of, the war, this number becomes a previously unexplored montage of how John came to this point in the story. The telephone sequence between Chris and John, again new and enlightening. Shanay Holmes portrays a sensitive and emotive Ellen with amazing lyrical understanding and a strong voice. Her rendition of the replacement song of Maybe is heart wrenching.

A mention of the famous Helicopter scene, no I won’t spoil it, but wow! It’s a stunning sensory overload, it’s much more than visual and auditory – you really are there! Watch out for Act one finale with its clever use of a large table as the boat and some clever Hackett choreography to create the turbulence!

I really was extremely impressed with this production, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it transferring in the future – it deserves to. Whether you are a prior Miss Saigon fan or a first timer – this show will impact you in ways you didn’t realise it would. It is emotive, it is heart wrenching and it is a soaring epic.  Only showing for a limited time at the Sheffield Crucible until Saturday 19th August, do not miss the show that evokes so many opinions – the legendary Miss Saigon.

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 13th July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.