There was an air of excitement in Birmingham this evening which was palpable. You could feel the anticipation as people arrived at Birmingham Hippodrome for the official opening of the UK tour of Miss Saigon. Indeed, the show has already spent time at Leicester and a week of it's run in Birmingham is over, but this is the night that the nations eyes are on the show - and the anticipation and build up has set the bar so incredibly high.
To put it into context, Miss Saigon is playing just 8 venues across the country between now and September 2018. The scale of the show means there's only a small number of theatres that can take the SIXTEEN lorries of equipment and almost 100 strong cast and creative team. It's stay in Birmingham will see it call the city home for 9 weeks with most performances having just a handful of single seats left.
WATCH THE TRAILER:
With music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr, Miss Saigon is based on Puccini's infamous opera; Madame Butterfly. It tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War, and the story of marriage between an American lieutenant and a geisha is replaced by a romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bargirl.
The musical opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1989, closing ten years later after 4,092 performances, and on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre in 1991. Miss Saigon represented Schönberg and Boublil's second major success, following Les Misérables in 1985.
Prior to the opening of the 2014 London revival it was claimed that Miss Saigon had set a world record for opening day ticket sales, with sales in excess of £4m reported. The show has taken home over 40 awards including 2 Olivier's, 3 Tony's and 4 Drama Desk Awards. As you can tell - it's kind of a big deal!
From the minute the opening bars of the overture fired up, you could feel the goosebumps rising. This isn't the sort of musical that tours every year, in fact you could count the combined amount of runs this show's had in both London and on tour on less than 2 hands - the audience expected something incredible...and boy did they get it!
The first bucket load of praise should be emptied on the orchestra. The guys and girls sitting in the pit under the stage can often be forgotten, but the 15 strong touring musicians made sure that wasn't the case tonight. The sheer acoustics of the Hippodromes auditorium, coupled with the iconic score, made it sound like the Royal Philharmonic were nestled under the apron. The faultless quality of the soundtrack was noticeable and is testament to the skill of each and every person in the pit.
There should also be praise noted for the outstanding set and lighting. The production is visually STUNNING and, should it be eligible, will undoubtably go on to win numerous awards.
However, naturally, for a production like this to succeed, a strong cast is essential. It should be noted that Miss Saigon doesn't seek to employ 'celebrities' to play key characters. There's no call for television stars to fill lead roles, each and every member of the cast is there based on their outstanding pedigree and superb talent - and I mean everyone. There isn't a single individual on the stage who put a foot wrong this evening and that contributed to a world class rendition of the show.
Zoe Doano is outstanding as Ellen, bringing such tender emotion to the role and, even with a comparatively short stage time, makes her mark and is certainly memorable. Ryan O'Gorman and Ashley Gilmour, as John and Chris respectively, should be complimented for their brilliant chemistry and slick, masterful grasp on their characters.
Red Concepcion took the role of the engineer and ramped it up a notch. Bringing comedy, sass and showbiz to the stage, mixing his talent alongside the brilliant visuals made for a memorable performance.
However, for me, Sooha Kim was an absolute sensation as Kim. Carrying a large portion of the weight of the show on her shoulders, her vocal and emotional performances quite literally reduced a Brummie audience to audible tears. Grown men were visibly shaken by the second act of the show and that is in large pats down to the final five minutes of the show where Sooha, O'Gorman, Gilmour, Doana and Concepcion gave a world class performance that evolved into a standing ovation from the entire auditorium.
Quite genuinely, this was one of the most exquisite, mind blowing performances I've ever had the pleasure to watch on stage. A true masterclass in musical theatre from every person on stage and one which means there is no other option than taking those last few tickets. I honestly think you'd regret it if you missed out.
If it were possible to go over five stars, I absolutely would. Twice over.