Theatre Review: Miss Saigon

Opera Australia’s stunning production of Miss Saigon opens in spectacular style at the Festival Theatre. And it's simply sensational says FIFTY+SA Arts Writer Diana Carroll.
Dr Diana Carroll

Almost 30 years ago Adelaide audiences saw the first production of this classic Cameron Mackintosh musical. They loved it, along with some 38 million theatre-goers around the world. There have been other productions along the way, but this new one really is exceptional. It’s actually hard to imagine a better production than this because every aspect is so outstanding. Singing and dancing? Top class. Orchestration? Superb. Lighting and set design? Mind-blowingly good. Emotional impact? Hits the spot every time! After a life-time of seeing musicals and operas, here and overseas, I really think this is the best production I’ve seen.

Everyone knows the story by now. Miss Saigon, based on the Puccini opera Madama Butterfly, is the tragic love story set amidst the chaos of the final days of the Vietnam War. Of course, thirty years ago that was still very real to Australian audiences with conscription only ending in 1972. The war is a little more remote for younger audiences today, but the show cleverly reminds us that this was real life and not just a modern fairytale.

The Heat Is On in Saigon sings the cast in the opening scene of this spectacular production. It’s steamy, it’s sexy, it’s tragic, but it’s also full of life and hope and love. And it’s Opera Australia so you know the singing is excellent. The cast is simply sensational with stellar performances from all the principals and brilliant ensemble work from the supporting singers and dancers. This is quite remarkable given that it’s a main-stage debut for many of the performers.

The show features some of musical theatre’s best-known songs including The Heat Is On in Saigon, Last Night of the World, and American Dream. There is also a new song, Maybe, in the last act that adds some depth and balance to the storyline. The small orchestra was in fine form on opening night under the vivacious lead of musical director and conductor Geoffrey Castles.

This Cameron Mackintosh revival production has wowed audiences in London and on Broadway, but Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment have added a local touch with the Australian cast and it really does showcase an extraordinary depth and range of talent including singers, dancers, and acrobats. All the ensemble numbers are electrifying with brilliant costumes and powerful

choreography, giving it a vibrant burlesque feel in the big numbers. Each set change takes place as if by magic aided by brilliant lighting and design. The show-stopping special effects, with the Statue of Liberty, a full-throttle Cadillac, and even an airborne helicopter as the troops leave the city, give Miss Saigon an incredible wow-factor that never fails to impress!

The ‘Miss Saigon’ of the show’s title is Kim, played here by Filipino-Australian performer Abigail Adriano. It’s a tragic role and Adriano handles it with flair and maturity. We really do feel her pain. Adriano has a lovely stage presence with a clear and versatile voice. As the story unfolds she is able to share the emotional development of her character. Australian-American performer Nigel Huckle is well-cast as Chris, the deeply decent GI who finds himself in an impossible situation. Six young performers, all aged just five or six, share the role of Chris and Kim’s child Tam. Inevitably they steal the show at every appearance as the entire audience falls in love with them.

Miss Saigon means so much to so many of us. To some it tells an important and deeply personal story of hardship that some of our family members have endured, and to others it’s an opportunity to be seen and perform one of the biggest shows in musical theatre history” said Adriano of being cast in the principal role.

Amidst such a talented cast, it’s hard to pick a favourite but the stand-out performer has to be Seann Miley Moore as The Engineer. He’s the Mr Fix-It of Saigon and manager of the brothel where most of the action takes place. Seann Miley Moore camps it up outrageously and gives his character a huge personality – he absolutely owns every scene. There is a dark side to the character but with this gay re-imagining we see that he too is battling his demons. Seann Miley Moore really is exceptional. Kimberley Hodgson also deserves a special mention for her potent portrayal of Gigi, a young woman who has seen it all and will do whatever it takes to survive.

Every element of this production is superb, from the sets and costumes, to the lighting and music. And I don’t often mention buying the show program, but I really do recommend it this time for the wealth of background information and the brilliant production images.

Miss Saigon really is breathtakingly good and fully deserved its rapturous opening night standing ovation. It’s on at the Festival Theatre until February 3rd so book now and give yourself an absolute treat. This is a show you’ll never forget!

Photo credit: Daniel Boud



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