Theatre Review: Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon is a masterpiece of theatrical magic — it is bold, confronting, hard-hitting, yet at the same time, full of heart, warmth and emotion

Miss Saigon is a masterpiece of theatrical magic — it is bold, confronting, hard-hitting, yet at the same time, full of heart, warmth and emotion

Presented by: Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment
Reviewed: 5 January, 2024

Bold, confronting, hard-hitting, yet at the same time, full of heart, warmth and emotion — Miss Saigon delivers all of this and much, much more. The heat was certainly on for the Adelaide opening night of Miss Saigon, playing to a full house and a rousing standing ovation. 

Miss Saigon, often described as one of the greatest musicals of all time, has won 70 major theatre awards including two Olivier Awards, three Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards. From the creators of Les Misérables (Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg), Miss Saigon has been seen by 38 million people and performed in 15 different languages, in over 32 countries and 350 cities.

Miss Saigon reframes Puccini’s 1904 opera Madama Butterfly, setting it during the Vietnam War. It is a powerful and poignant tale of love in the dangerous days before Saigon’s fall in 1975. Miss Saigon tells the story of Chris, an American GI (Nigel Huckle), who falls in love with Kim (Abigail Adriano), a young Vietnamese orphan who works as a bar-girl and prostitute in The Engineer’s (Seann Miley Moore) nightclub, Dreamland. When the city falls, the lovers are separated and Chris eventually returns to the U.S. Years later, we see Chris return to Bangkok with his American wife, Ellen (Kerrie Anne Greenland).

It is hard to put into words the emotional impact this show delivers. It is breathtakingly beautiful in every way imaginable. The cast, the sets, the costumes, the lighting, the orchestra, and the audio all work together seamlessly as they take the audience on an emotional roller-coaster, giving a snippet into the devastating effects of the Vietnam War. Laurence Connor’s direction is nothing short of brilliant. It is fresh and draws on the grittier side of Vietnam during the war. At times, the staging of this production is confronting, but it only gives the audience a stronger understanding of the trauma and devastation inflicted upon those affected by the war.

Miss Saigon is exquisitely cast — they are faultless. The ensemble is tight and on point. The female identifying ensemble sublimely handled the delicate and intricate harmonies in numbers such as The Wedding Ceremony and The Movie in My Mind, but certainly brought the attitude and vocal punch where it was needed. The male identifying ensemble were equally as brilliant. Bui Doi hit the audience hard at the top of Act 2, and their vocal blend and sound was spine-tinglingly good (more on this number later). Miss Saigon is driven by the ensemble — their energy feeds the leads. Extremely well executed choreography, tight vocals and brilliant attention to detail in their background work — you could see the show a second time just to watch all the little interactions happening in the background.

Nigel Huckle as Chris is stunning, and what a voice. He handles the ever so complex score with ease and never once falters on those big, money notes. Why God Why? left this reviewer with goosebumps and Huckle delivered it with amazing vocal work and equally as amazing storytelling. From being ‘one of the boys’ with his American counterparts through to the softer, tender nature we see when he is with Kim and his later wife, Ellen, Huckle is a master of his craft.

Abigail Adriano’s portrayal of Kim is breathtaking. From the pure innocences we see at the beginning, to her falling in love for the first time and then the drive, determination and anguish that leads Kim to the final moments in the show are handled with perfect care by Adriano. Adriano’s voice gives you everything you want and more in this role, from her punchy low register, to the soaring delicacy in her higher mix, to her strong, pure belt. The warm timbre in her voice makes it so easy to listen to and she delivers emotion in the bucket loads. The closing of Act 1, I’d Give My Life For You is sublime. Her diction is brilliant — you never miss a word. From her softer, tender tones through to the wordy, fast and powerful vocal sections, Adriano keeps everything clear. Simply, Adriano is nothing but stunning in the role of Kim.

The duets and scenes between Huckle and Adriano are electrifying. Sun and Moonhas always been a personal favourite number, and these two did not disappoint. Their vocal blending was brilliant and their storytelling work made the love story between Kim and Chris believable. 

Seann Miley Moore IS The Engineer — they are a star-studded performer through and through. Moore’s unique interpretation of The Engineer is fresh and unlike any I have seen before. They have found a side of The Engineer that is slightly camp, but still gritty and money driven and boy does this work. From the first moment we see Moore they have the audience hooked. They ooze sex appeal and constantly demand your attention. Vocally, Moore is brilliant. Their gravely undertones worked perfectly as The Engineer. The American Dream was not only a feast for the ears, but visually, this number was brilliant. 

In supporting roles, Kerrie Anne Greenland (Ellen), Lewis Francis (John), Laurence Mossman (Thuy) and Kimberley Hodgson (Gigi) are all perfectly cast. It is wonderful to see Greenland performing in Adelaide once again. Her portal of Ellen is fresh and she finds a warmer side to her that I haven’t seen too often. Vocally Greenland is stunning and her duet with Adriano, I Still Believe, delivered a strong emotional punch. Francis’s delivery of John was strong. His storytelling in Bui Doi, along with his sensational voice, made this one of the standout performances in this production of Miss Saigon. Mossman and Hodgson’s work as Thuy and Gigi are equally as strong. Both have found some wonderful depth to these two roles.

Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score is not only demanding vocally, but for the musicians in the pit, it certainly provides a challenge. It beautifully melds Western and Eastern instrumentation together providing a lush, rich and warming accompaniment for the performers. Geoffrey Castles’ work with both the cast and the orchestra is top notch. His strong understanding and love for this score is apparent with the brilliant attention to details in his work. The orchestra is magical — there was several times where I just wanted to close my eyes and listen to their sound it is that good.

Those who know the show wait with bated breath to see how the fall of Saigon is staged, particularly regarding the famous helicopter. This scene is a theatrical treat. I will not give any further spoilers — you need to see (and feel) for yourself. The set for Miss Saigon is as good as the cast. It moves in, out and across the stage with ease and is only lifted by the brilliant lighting design by Bruno Poet.

On opening night, the role of Tam, Kim’s young son, was played by Michael Nguyen Chang. At times Chang stole the show with his innocence. I must commend the creative team for the brilliant blocking whenever Tam is on stage. Careful placement meant that Tam has his back to any violent or confronting moments. At a young age, it would be hard to differentiate what is acting and what is real, so this blocking was thoughtful and considerate.

Miss Saigon is a masterpiece of theatrical magic, playing with the full emotional range of the audience. It only has a limited season in Adelaide and is certainly worth seeing. Take your tissues as this emotionally driven production is sure to play with your heart.

Reviewed by Ben Stefanoff

Photo credit: Daniel Boud

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: Until January 28, 2024
Duration: 2 hours and 40 minutes (including intermission)
Tickets: From $79.90

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