From the moment the curtain rises on the Miss Saigon stage, the audience knows that they are in for an incredible journey. The Adelaide Festival Centre stage has been skilfully transformed into a Saigon war zone. Soldiers run roughshod through busy villagers’ lives, choppers flying noisily overhead, bombs exploding in the distance, and chaos and destruction everywhere. Amid all this confusion, a single spotlight shines on a white-clad virginal young girl, Kim (played exquisitely by Abigail Adriano). Kim has lost her family in the war and finds herself in Saigon. The Engineer (a delightfully slutty Seann Miley Moore) runs a seedy brothel which caters to the American GI’s. He snatches up the innocent Kim as a prize to be capitalised on.
Amongst the crass soldiers, a lone Marine stands out. Chris (convincingly played by Nigel Huckle) “buys” Kim for the evening. But this is more than a simple one-night stand. A true bond of love forms between the pair, before Chris is suddenly sent back to the US. Unbeknownst to him, a child is produced from this union. Will their love survive?
To reveal the plot in this way is a gross oversimplification of the magnificence of this musical. The grandeur and splendour of Saigon is portrayed sumptuously, with multi-level sets making the action feel larger than life. Skilful lighting focuses the action whilst the expansive ensemble provide the background colour making the whole performance rich and inviting. We move from one tableau to the next in perfect harmony.
It is also difficult to put into words the lushness of this extravaganza. From the music of Geoffrey Castles’s orchestra to Matt Kinley and Totie Driver‘s set design and Luke Hall‘s projections, director Laurence Connor has masterfully combined all elements of the show. The music ranges from full expansive and overpowering crescendos to breathless silence during intimate moments. Costumes by Andreane Neofitou are superb and complement the choreography magnificently. It is a stunning visual treat to watch. Muscular acrobats to simple villagers are flawlessly portrayed. The overall feeling is that of an epic movie.
The staging transformations are seamless. A Saigon village, a seedy dive bar, a barbed wire compound with a gigantic helicopter just overhead, and a fire-breathing dragon. Ho Chi Minh’s effigy oversees the army marching in formation. A New York high-rise office. The list goes on as the story unfolds.
During the second act we learn of the US government’s endeavours to unite the children left behind with their American fathers. A mothers bond is fractured by the hope of a better life for her son. This overarching story leaves barely a dry eye in the house. There can be few winners in this landscape, amidst all the struggle and pain.
This is a complex story that has performed with the precision, skill and yes, humour that it deserves. A visual treat and an emotional release on a grand scale that had a full standing ovation for the cast, immense ensemble and the orchestra. A truly magnificent performance by all.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The reviewer attended the performance on 5th January
Miss Saigon runs until 28th January at the Adelaide Festival Theatre
For more information or tickets, check the website here