‘The heat is on in Saigon!”
First and foremost, Windmill Theatre Company should be extremely proud of their 2010 musical Miss Saigon. It was truly an engaging and memorable performance told by an equally sensational cast and team. This is the first time that I have seen Miss Saigon performed and I was engrossed in this stellar performance right from the opening number.
Miss Saigon’s compelling tale based loosely on Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” and also inspired by a photograph, that Miss Saigon founder Claude Michael Schonberg had stumbled upon in a magazine. The photo depicts a mother with her daughter at Tan Son Nhat Airport. The mother is leaving her child at the departure terminal to board a plane destined for the U.S, in the hope for a better life with her ex- GI father.
Miss Saigon tells the gripping story of an American Chris (an American GI), played robustly by Liam Kilgour who meets Kim (an orphan Vietnamese prostitute) encapsulated superbly by Sharon Wills. The two have a hesitant encounter and this leads them to make a romantic and vulnerable connection and they fall in love. As the show develops we see Chris unwillingly return to the U.S and Kim experiencing obstacles closer to home. We follow the struggles of Chris and Kim as they hold somewhat true to each other, in a memory of their nights spent in Saigon.
Sue Salvato should be excited and full of pride that she has chosen the perfect cast to suit the roles in Miss Saigon, and with such, has delivered a very entertaining night out at the theatre. The general flow on and off stage seemed unforced as some of the busy scenes did tend to require all the cast to be on stage at once. Sue should also be commended for, what I believe is a clever choice, that the girls not to douse their eyes with make up in order to appear Asian. She didn’t have a massive number of Asian orientated members in her cast and made a clear choice to steer away from making this passionate show into a satire. Although, when you see the show, you will find that it probably won’t even cross your mind because of how outstanding, and true to character, the ensemble are. Well done Sue on a first-rate production!
Choreographer Karen Ingwersen was challenged to deliver a range of intended styles throughout the production. From movement to suit a night-club feel, to a more structured and uniformed approach incorporating props such as, flags, ribbons, and at times, fumbled guns. “The American Dream” should get a special mention, as this piece demanded the intrinsic work of the ensemble, and my word it did. Legs were kicked to the same height and faces turned together as required. The piece moved like a well-oiled machine and was very effective to the eye. The choreography was dynamic and only enhanced the production with its high energy and intention.
The cast were perfectly selected in bringing Miss Saigon to life. As I was flicking through the program at interval, putting names to faces, I noticed something that almost floored me. That Sharon Wills, in the role of Kim, was only 16 years old. Her maturity and sense of understanding of this character’s journey was absolutely astounding. Matched with a voice that was comfortable with the range, her performance did bring tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. She got my attention during “Sun and Moon”, and sealed the deal with her mesmerising rendition of “I still believe”, and “I’d give my life for you”.
Liam Kilgour, as Chris, could only be described as being pitch perfect. The delivery of “Why God, Why?” only showed the strength and versatility of his performance ability. His need and desperation, to support his character of Chris, allowed him to harness a truly likable and empathetic character.
Crowd favourite, Matt Hillman, as the sleazy, devious and corrupt “Engineer” wowed the audience with his comedic stature and unscrupulous entice. “The American Dream” was a real show stopper and was reflected, as such, in the audience applause that lasted longer than any other that evening.
Stan Peters, as Thuy, was extreme with his portrayal on opening night. His character came across so angry, I actually felt like I had done something wrong and was in trouble without knowing I had. His intention was clear, but his body seemed to get rigid and almost awkward as the show went on. This may have gotten in the way of his representation of Thuy and may have made the audience a little nervous for him as to his approach.
Other strong performances were from the supporting cast of Peter Jenkins as John and Rosa Mc Cartney as Ellen. Peter is riveting as John, Chris’s friend, and held true to his believable performance. He left the audience challenging their own thinking with his moving rendition of “Bui Doi”. Rosa, a seasoned performer, has an absolutely remarkable voice. The musical number “Now that I’ve seen her” left everyone hanging off every sound that came out of her mouth. Rosa is truly a talented woman.
The Ensemble is absolutely outstanding. They also had some of the tightest musical numbers I have seen in the amateur theatre circuit before. Also special mention needs to made for Jonathon Ho who plays the adorable and shy role of Tam, Chris and Kim’s son.
Alberto Salvato should be commended on his set design and scenic art. With the luxury of a state of the art theatre, fit with generous wings and a sufficiently used fly tower, Alberto and his team delivered a visual smorgasbord only too complimentary to the performance. From the trashy “Dreamland” and “Le Moulin Rouge” clubs complete with banners swung in from the flies, to the transformation of the dingy sleeping cell of which Kim reside, all were very effective in their delivery and enhanced the scene without taking too much away from the performance. The scene that I must talk about though, in regards to the clever use of set, was the intense and wild scene at the Embassy gates. The Vietnamese furiously pounding the gates and the American Army not allowing any more people into the country, we see the actors supported effortlessly with the rotation of this effective dual gate device. The scene then moves into turmoil when the last helicopter is to leave Saigon with Chris on board. With clever lighting and sound effects we see the enormous dark silhouette of the helicopter come down to the stage and then leave again. Alberto and his team have utilised the amazing resources available at the Dandenong Drum Theatre and have gone all out to create an atmosphere that left me in awe. Brilliant!
Glenda Novotny, costume designer and team leader of some very talented women, should also be acknowledged for the diversity in clothing sorted for bringing this musical to life. Chris and his fellow officers were clad in American Army wear fit with belts and pistols, where the dancing girls of the “Dreamland” and “Le Moulin Rouge” nightclubs wore a little less in order to be presented a little more “nasty”. The Vietnamese soldiers looked fierce in their solider wear as they presented “The morning of the Dragon”. Kim’s costume had been kept a simple white to differentiate her between her fellow Vietnamese civilians and we saw variations of this dress on a slightly altering palette and cut. The Engineer, played phenomenally by Matt Hillman, lead a white and powder blue suited kick line toward the “American Dream”. This was complete with the girls sporting super blonde wigs and a dazzling dressed, “Miss China Town”. Well done to Glenda and her team.
There is a reason why so many theatre companies choose Jason Bovaird to create a lighting design for their shows, it is because he goes beyond what basic lighting is required to create the mood but then takes it one step further, adds a little bit more, to create theatre magic. The lighting design for Miss Saigon was no exception. With lighting effects to support the illusion of the helicopter and the creative idea of using the rear lit flood-lights to provoke intimidation as the Viet Cong soldiers marched on stage to present “The morning of the dragon”, the lighting was so distinguished, that we were supported along this emotive journey.
The sound choices and quality for Miss Saigon were intrinsic and dynamic! Marcello Lo Ricco and Steve Cooke had put together the perfect balance when recognising the orchestra and cast microphones when infused on stage. Furthermore, the surround sound when bringing the helicopter into the Embassy scene would not have been missed by anyone… in Dandenong. We received the full brunt of what a tremendous sound department and system the Drum Theatre holds. Musical Director Andrew Houston showed his level of his professionalism and leadership with keeping the cast and orchestra tightly disciplined. The only setback I had was during the first act, and this may be due to Andrew being aware of an audience on opening night, was the gap left between each musical number. The musical numbers tended to lead straight into the other with only a split second for the audience to offer their appreciation to each of the captivating numbers. The orchestra however, showed substance and clarity through their faultless and resinating performance.
Do yourself and favour and get to Dandenong’s Drum Theatre and see this beautiful recreation of Miss Saigon. I am sure that you will not be disappointed.
Leigh Roncon Leigh is a performer based in Melbourne. He holds a Bachelor of Arts - Musical Theatre - Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts and a Bachelor of Teaching - Primary and Secondary - Dance, Drama and Theatre Studies. Leigh has enjoyed over 20 years of performance experience in theatre, TV, film, Cabaret and Theatre Restaurants. When Leigh is not teaching performing arts, he is in the spot light to full-fill his own creative dream.