The colossal touring production of Miss Saigon takes up residency at Birmingham Hippodrome for an extended run as the theatre’s annual summer musical. A potentially unusual choice in a slot usually filled by a more family-friendly musical, it is a treat to see the Hippodrome’s huge stage filled by the vast and technically complex set.
The cast of this Miss Saigon touring production all give astonishing performances. After covering the role in the West End, Sooha Kim impresses in the lead role of Kim. From her very first words, her crystalline vocals evoke urgent and powerful emotions, in both her deceptively fragile upper notes and her strong lower range. She acts with real clarity and simplicity; nothing is forced is this heartbreaking, engaging performance. I love her interpretation of Kim as an impulsive, passionate women, who takes control of her own life.
Ashley Gilmour gives a touching performance as Chris, sharing his feelings for Kim with real joy and elation. His rendition of ‘Why God’ is especially remarkable, hitting the tricky high notes with apparent ease. At times, his exaggerated gestures and elaborate vocal trills amount to a slightly melodramatic interpretation.
The enigmatic Red Concepcion gives the stand-out performance as the Engineer. As the only character to interact directly with the audience, he immediately strikes up a warm rapport. With small sideways glances and a twinkle in his eye, he lets the audience into the world of Miss Saigon and shares his secrets with you. His rendition of ‘American Dream’ is a fantastic moment of light relief.
Miss Saigon boasts some of the most beautiful and interesting songs in musical theatre. The most memorable musical moment comes with the opening of Act 2, as the male chorus swell in the beautiful a capella opening of Bui-Doi. Led by Ryan O’Gorman as John, his raw, powerful vocals are absolutely flawless.
The set design is slick and high tech, with smooth changes from the Dreamland bar, to Chris and Ellen’s American bedroom, and Bangkok’s red light district. The showcase moment is that ubiquitous helicopter, which is incredibly realistic and cleverly designed.
The most pressing issue faced by Miss Saigon lies in its very Western, romanticised view of the Vietnam War. It touches upon very interesting issues, such as the treatment of US sympathisers after fall of Vietnam and the Bui-Doi children, but it is essentially a love story which fails to educate or challenge opinions.
However, perhaps this is unfair – Miss Saigon wasn’t designed to be a political play. It’s a blockbuster West End and Broadway musical, with an amazing cast, which is an extremely beautiful and touching experience. Iconic songs and inventive lyrics make this a high quality piece of theatre, which arguably possesses the power to transport and move the audience beyond any other musical.
Miss Saigon is at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 23 September and tickets can be found here.