Theatre review - Miss Saigon, Palace Theatre Manchester

Miss Saigon
Photo: Cameron Mackintosh

Miss Saigon Photo: Cameron Mackintosh - Credit: Archant

A tragic story of love and loss in complicated times, presented in epic proportion. You’ll love every minute, says Kate Houghton.

Sooha Kim, as Kim, in Miss Saigon

Sooha Kim, as Kim, in Miss Saigon - Credit: Archant

The story told in Miss Saigon is an old one, a tale repeated endlessly no doubt since the Romans began their centuries of invasion and occupation. A young soldier in a strange land meets a pretty girl and finds peace and a momentary sense of normality in her arms. Love blossoms, only to be cut brutally short by his army’s hasty withdrawal from the town. The Vietnam War was, history records, a colossal waste of life, with both sides locked in a dirty conflict where morality held little sway. This stupendous show knocks gently on the door of political commentary, but avoids getting sucked in to any moralistic statement-making, instead presenting the audience with just enough understanding of the situation (and how it affected the actual men and women caught up, by accident or design) to allow us to commit to the characters, without any attempt to aim for higher ground.

It’s easy to relate to each of the characters, even though their lives are unimaginable. Kim, an innocent 17-year old girl, has fled to Saigon after losing her family when her village was destroyed. She is taken in by The Engineer, a foul, completely amoral man who runs a brothel and bar, who sells her to the highest bidder, a US Marine captain who gifts her to Chris, his depressed and weary junior officer. Against all the odds, Chris and Kim fall in love, resulting in some glorious, spine-tingling songs and moments of pure joy. Their ‘wedding’ gives us one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs in the whole show, Dju Vui Vai, as the whores sing the wedding chant to Chris and Kim, unsure, Kim explains, what else to sing to a couple formally acknowledging their love.

Ashley Gilmour, Chris, and Ryan O'Gorman, John, in Miss Saigon
Photo: Johan Persson

Ashley Gilmour, Chris, and Ryan O'Gorman, John, in Miss Saigon Photo: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

The relationship between Kim and Chris, as portrayed by Sooha Kim and Ashley Gilmour, is utterly real and believable. Their duets are glorious, both have the most incredible, powerful voices, lifting the audience with them as they celebrate their love. An intake of breath from everyone in the auditorium greeted Gilmour’s ‘Why God, Why?’, as his voice grew and grew as he recognised that falling in love now is wonderful, but very bad timing.

The Engineer provides a little light relief amongst the horror. Yes, he’s utterly without morality and wholly dedicated to his own needs and ambitions, but he’s also larger-than-life rollicking bundle of joy. Even in his darkest moments he’s plotting his next move, totally sure of his ability to not only survive, but thrive. Played here by Red Concepción, he fills the stage with his joyous expression of greed, determination and self-belief. It’s a good job, and wise casting, that Sooha Kim and Ashley Gilmour are such strong performers, as Concepción would be in danger of stealing the show otherwise. His song American Dream is absolutely brilliant, a mad celebration of the life he believes he is destined to lead, once he makes it Stateside.

Gerald Santos, Thuy, and Sooha Kim, Kim, in Miss Saigon
Photo: Johan Persson

Gerald Santos, Thuy, and Sooha Kim, Kim, in Miss Saigon Photo: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

There really isn’t one element of the show that can’t have epithets such as epic, outstanding, incredible, etc, applied to it. The set is superb, each individual performance brilliant, the grand ensemble dances breathtaking, with precision choreography on a grand scale…even to the last, heartbreaking moments where all our key characters gather once again in Bangkok we are led along a path of musical theatre brilliance that leaves us positively shaken. Listening in to conversations on the way out, I was not the only one feeling quite wrung out by it all.

These are just a few of the reasons why Miss Saigon has achieved ‘classic’ status and been enjoyed by tens of millions of people around the world, to really understand it for yourself, I recommend you book tickets now, before it’s too late. And take tissues.

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Miss Saigon runs at the Palace Theatre Manchester until May 12.