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Miss Saigon: Entertaining and Inspiring

If I had known that this much trumpeted production of Miss Saigon was by North Shore Music Theatre I wouldn't have gone. Big musicals need large talented casts, big name singers and heaps of creativity.

John Daly-Peoples
Mon, 23 May 2011

Miss Saigon
Civic Theatre, The Edge
Until June 11th

If I had known that this much trumpeted production of Miss Saigon was by North Shore Music Theatre I wouldn’t have gone. Big musicals need large talented casts, big name singers and heaps of creativity.

But I was so wrong. This production would receive rave reviews in London or New York. It is stylish with world class singers and there is not one big international name (apart from Tina Cross). Now they are all big names.

The sets are an indication of this being an intelligent production with the designers using their budgets wisely. Some of the sets are minimal while others by contrast are overwhelming. One of the last ones which celebrates the USA features a huge stars and stripes made up of red, white and blue lights, filling the stage along with a pyrotechnics display, a live Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam on stilts.

The famous photo of US troops fleeing in a helicopter from the roof of the American Embassy is brilliantly and evocatively realised with the thundering helicopter seeming to burst into the theatre.

Miss Saigon is a simple love story which goes wrong – there is the other woman, or rather the misguided man.

The story is an updated version of Puccini’s opera Madam Butterfly but set in Saigon in the closing days of the Vietnam War when Kim (played by Christiana Zhu) and Chris (Russell Dixon) fall in love and in Bangkok three years later when they are tragically reunited.

It is also an historical drama with its setting during one of Americas most ill advised excursions into being the Worlds Policeman. It also provides a wider historical framework from the colonial interventions of France earlier in the century to the horrors of the Vietnamese period of Unification and Revolution.

Christiana Zhu as Kim is stunning, using her voice to chart the young girl’s progress from being a naïve country girl lost in Saigon. As the story progresses her voice transforms, giving a real sense of formidable and courageous woman taking control of her destiny.

The voice is full of subtle emotion, sensitivity and power and she races through her voice range, effortlessly managing the high notes where many singers start to waver.

She is also an accomplished actress who uses her body and face to project her emotional confusion and control.

Russell Dixon as Chris the American soldier “who thinks too much” gives a strong and intense performance and thankfully does not attempt an American accent.

He manages to show a range of emotions from his first falling in love across a crowded room through the distress of parting and the tension of being reunited with his Miss Saigon.

While the emotions of the two main characters are at the heart of the musical it is John Hellyer as The Engineer, nightclub owner and street capitalist who carries the impetus of show. While the two lovers deal with matters of the heat The Engineer deals with the whole question of survival. Hellyer is magnificent as the gaudy dissolute and almost amoral pimp.

His raucous voice captures the tensions of life reminiscent of the MC in Cabaret.

And Tina Cross. She isn’t on stage nearly long enough. When she is she, is superb as Gigi, head girl at the club who knows all the tricks but also knows the pain. Her voice captures all the nuances of life on the edge, her sensuality tempered by wars realism. Her singing of The Movie in my Mind was emotionally intense and drew together many of the themes of love, dreams and loss which haunt the musical.

Chris’s mate John the blustering sergeant who becomes an aid organiser for Vietnamese children after the war was perceptively played by James Calcinai. His singing of the song Bui –Doi, (Life is like dust) was a moving evocation of attempts to right the wrongs of war.

This Miss Saigon isn’t just a great night out being entertained by a superb cast; it’s an intensely moving and inspiring experience.

John Daly-Peoples
Mon, 23 May 2011
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Miss Saigon: Entertaining and Inspiring