What is there still to say about a musical which has been running and reviewed longer than I have been alive?
Everyone knows Miss Saigon is one of the “big ones” in the musical world – and for good reason.
It takes musical theatre to a new level, involving history – and not the bright side of history – a full, deep and convoluted storyline, and sets which allow you to travel through time and space and engages your senses and emotions in a way you wouldn’t think possible from a stage show.
From Bristol we went to Vietnam in 1975, during the war. 17-year-old Kim (Sooha Kim) has taken from her village to be a working girl and on her first night working at Dreamland, she meets American soldier Chris (Ashley Gilmour) and they fall in love.
After the opening scenes at Dreamland, with the sleazy pimp “Engineer” (Red Concepcion) and girls dancing on the bar, getting dry-humped on stage (this is most definitely an R-rated show), the show takes a more solemn tone when the girls start singing The Movie in My Mind, revealing their dreams and wishes, none of which involve the being paid for sex.
Kim seems to have found her way out when she met Chris. They hold a “wedding ceremony” and he promises to take her with him when he leaves Vietnam.
But things don’t go as planned.
Three years later, Vietnam is reunited, the soldiers have long left and a commissar in the new Communist government is looking for the Engineer to help him find Kim, his cousin who was promised to him when they were young and who dismissed him when she met Chris.
The music and dance during the Vietnamese street party and when the Vietnamese soldiers arrive show just how incredible the production is and how it can make you forget you are in a seat watching a show.
The Engineer brings the commissar to Kim, who has been in hiding. And when she refuses his marriage proposal again and shows him her 3-year-old son Tam. The commissar threatens to kill her with a knife when she grabs a gun and kills him.
Soosha shows her voice is just as impressive as Eva Nomblezada, who played the role on the West End, when we see her going from anger and rage against the commissar to fear after killing him and finally softly reassuring her son.
She has to flee with her son and the Engineer sees Tam as the ultimate way into the United States to live his American Dream.
In just under three hours (yes, running time is 2 hours 50 minutes) we are faced with the ugly truth of not just war, but what it does to the people, with a soldier’s battle when he returns, with a mother’s pain, with an insight into a Communist regime many who were born in the Western world after the war may not know much about. It is as tense as an opera and you are longing for the interval to breathe and regroup because it is simply impossible to remain unmoved by what is happening on stage.
After Kim and Chris finally reunited (along with Chris’ wife, Ellen!), the dramatic ending will leave you breathless (and probably with a tear in your eye).
Miss Saigon runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until June 23 and audio description and close caption performances are also available.
Tickets can be found at ATG Tickets.