By Angie Bedford
Miss Saigon is the brainchild of Frenchman Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (Les Miserables).
An adaptation of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon premiered in 1989 and has since played to massive audiences worldwide.
Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Miss Saigon came to Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2007, but has been absent from the musical scene since.
So as a self-confessed crazed fan of that production, I was thrilled to hear the Saigon drought would end with CLOC’s production, and eagerly made my way to the Alexander Theatre for Opening Night.
After a night of awe and (discreet!) tears, I can confidently say CLOC produced a fantastic production of this epic musical.
really has it all – a tragic love story, a snapshot of world history, a
killer score… and of course, a little Broadway spectacle.
story begins in 1975, and the "heat is on" in a sleazy nightclub called
Dreamland, hosted by the seedy entrepreneur known as The Engineer
The Engineer’s latest bargirl is Kim (Bianca
Baykara), a recently orphaned 17 year old. Along with the other girls,
Kim is judged in a faux beauty pageant – ‘Miss Saigon’, where the
winner is raffled off to an American soldier.
Truscott) is crowned, however it is Kim who catches the eye of GI
Christopher Scott (Mark Doran), and she is bought for him by his best
friend John (Toby Truscott).
After spending the night together,
Kim and Chris fall in love, and they undergo a Vietnamese marriage
ceremony. The American troops are then withdrawn from Saigon, and
Kim and Chris and torn apart.
What follows is Kim’s desperate
struggle for survival and desire for Chris to return to her, and, a
son, Tam (Matthew Lin/Frank Xu/Joey Xu), he doesn’t know exists. Kim’s
struggle is complicated by the return of her betrothed, Thuy (Nicholas
Kong), and Chris’ marriage to an American woman, Ellen (Alana Kiely).
The real strength of this production was the consistent vision across the board.
detail – from choreography to the smallest prop had its place.
Sometimes the best productions are those that allow you to get lost in
the story and don’t require constant concentration – and while I found
myself recalling highlights for days, on Friday night, Director Bradtke
succeeded in immersing the audience in the world of Saigon.
consistency really applied to the cast, as CLOC’s Saigon was less about
‘stars’ and more about teamwork. The plot does focus on Kim and Chris,
but I really appreciated the other characters so much more than in the
It is a credit to Michael Loughlin’s Musical Direction.
Initially I was hanging for the ‘big’ notes made famous by the casts of
the past, but there were no imitators here – just raw meaning conveyed
by well-controlled voices. The Orchestra were also sharp and moved
along a great pace throughout 30 or so songs.
Grant Alley describes the cast as a “United Nations of talent”. I think
the multi-cultural cast were used to great effect, with a number of the
ensemble playing both Caucasian and Asian roles – and before I forget,
CLOC have three beautiful boys playing the role of Tam.
On this occasion, Matthew Lin received the collective “awwwws” when he first appeared.
ensemble men were at their strongest in Bui Doi, lead by the talented
Toby Truscott as John. You could’ve heard a pin drop when they were
belting out those crisp harmonies. The ensemble was heart rendering as
they desperately begged to escape Saigon in Kim’s Nightmare (The Fall
of Saigon 1975).
The Morning of the Dragon
was also performed well. It was a credit to choreographer Lynette
White for keeping the movement varied and smooth in such a long dance
number with so many performers! That said, all of White’s choreography
was deliberate and well executed.
I particularly liked the
quartet featuring Bree Truscott (Gigi), Jasmine Kwan (Yvette), Frieda
Lai (Yvonne), Franceska Leoncio (Mimi). These stunners were a joy to
watch and sang and moved well.
Mark Doran owned his
performance of Chris, with an incredible voice and stage presence.
Chris is a crucial representation of the young American soldier in
Vietnam who is looking for answers and trying to comprehend the world
around him. Doran’s beautiful delivery of Why God Why? really set the standard of the evening.
role of Kim is strenuous for the performer. She is rarely offstage and
the audience follows her journey as an innocent orphan to lover, mother
and victim. Bianca Baykara did a commendable job. While initially I
found her restrained, she soon showed her strengths. I particularly
found her most convincing as a hardened victim, filled with a sense of
independence and an instinctive maternal responsibility. Baykara sung
the challenging role with sincerity and understanding.
always seen the Engineer as a bit of a ‘common man’ – an over the top
commentator so distinct from the rest of Saigon. Jamie McGuane’s
Engineer had these elements, but I appreciated the naturalism in his
role. Despite the Engineer’s arrogant and independent exterior, McGuane
also conveyed his desperation.
I think it is easy to get
caught up in the humour and spectacle of American Dream, however
McGuane’s delivery was spot on. It came complete with the trademark
moves and charisma, but the introduction was fantastic storytelling;
his performance highlight.
I enjoyed Alana Kiely’s performance
as Ellen, a role you may barrack for, or love to hate. Ellen is
essentially an innocent party, but she is crucial in determining Kim’s
fate. What I took from this performance was also Ellen’s confusion and
ignorance, evident in Kiely’s moving Now That I’ve Seen Her.
Kong also performed well as Thuy, Kim’s cousin and betrothed, who
becomes a high-ranking Viet Cong solider, but really seemed like a boy
in man’s clothing. Nick sang well, particularly in Kim’s Nightmare
(Fall of Saigon 1975), it was a pity we couldn’t see his face well.
Otherwise the lighting (by Stelios Karagiannis) was fantastic,
maintaining a foreboding overtone throughout, aside from the red, white
and blue palette in American Dream.
found a few errors in sound as some of the vocals were a little muffled
and overpowered by the orchestra, although this improved in the second
Act. I must also commend the performers for pushing on while the
monitors of their conductor were in the stages of dying and death
throughout Act One.
Costume design by Miranda Kalgovas was
thorough and accurate from footwear to military uniforms. Every
piece had its purpose. Standout’s included Kim’s beautiful marriage
costume, the American dreamgirl ensembles, the Engineer’s red sheer
outfit complete with ‘pimp’ chains, and the colourful variety of tragic
clunky heels and thrifty lingerie on the Dreamland girls that still
managed to blend beautifully!
Set by Brenton Staples brought
Saigon to life. Made up of two staircases and several modules, Staples’
set twisted and turned every which way to create countless locations.
It was remarkable planning, and ably executed by Bernard and Gemma
Hedger’s diligent crew, particularly for the mid-scene changes.
also loved the use of the boat at the end of Act One (chilling
symbolism) and the electric set lighting that went wherever Ellen did,
the lamps and TV were a nice touch of technology! Properties by
Karen Warrington were extensive and detailed – I loved the filing
cabinet on wheels! You couldn’t ask for more from these designers.
I mustn't forget to mention the helicopter, although I won’t be
spoiling anything! I will just say 10/10. It was timed perfectly and
had me hooked. A great technical achievement.
An amazing production. A highly recommend interpretation of Miss Saigon... if you can get a ticket!
Director: Chris Bradtke
Choreography: Lynette White
Where: Alexander Theatre, Monash University, Clayton.