Miss Saigon

Marie Clark Musical Theatre. Arts Theatre – 20 to 28 May 2011

Marie Clark has reached for the stars in their latest production of Miss Saigon, and has pleasantly outdone themselves with this staging of a well-known musical. Directed by Max Rayner with Choreography by Irena Setchell and Musical Direction by Ben Saunders, one would expect pretty high standards. On most fronts they don’t disappoint, however there were a few glaring issues which took the shine off of this potential gem.

Set design by Ole Wiebkin is in keeping with his usual dark interpretive style, but disappointingly the audience could often see right through to the back of the theatre, into the dimly lit props bay and back stage hallways. Wiebkin places a lot of the action onto large trucks which modified the performance spaces wonderfully, the trucks did appear a little cumbersome to operate, but the crew, under stage manager Jill Stephens, should be commended on moving them as unobtrusively as they did. Audio levels were fine throughout with sound management handled by Tim Freedman of Allpro Audio, but the orchestra was unbalanced and seemed to have a lot of issues, often shrill in the brass section and completely out of tune in the Asian Flute solos.

Lighting by Peter Howie and Chris Golding was effective, working with so much black is always difficult. The return of Thuy’s ghost under red follow spot was especially effective. 

All of the players gave solid performances, but did for the most part appear to struggle with the complicated vocal score. The only character to completely nail the singing was Ellen, wife to Chris played by Michelle Pearson. Pearson’s voice was a power house and remained pitch perfect. The leads were all well cast and did a great job. Omkar Nagesh, played The Engineer with great energy and really hit his straps both vocally and in characterisation in “The American Dream”. It would have been nice to see more of the characterisation in this piece come through earlier in the show. Maylin Superio as Kim, looks great in her roll and captures the character beautifully. Superio has a beautiful voice, which with a little more training and experience will be more consistent and reliable. James Reed as Chris was similarly strong in his role, only occasionally finding a few notes which were a stretch in this complicated score. David MacGillivray blew us away in the opening of the second act singing “Bui Doi”, really showing the audience what he was capable of and James Seow as Kim’s promised love Thuy had wonderful conviction and energy. Kim’s little boy is played by two young actors sharing the part, and in the opening night performance, Juan Carlos Kilapio had the role. Kilapio stole the audience’s heart with his cute actions and outfits to match. The dreamland bar girls sexed it up in style dressed in skimpy raunchy lingerie. Scantily played by Kate Harrison, Victoria Beal, Amanda McCormick, Danielle Jeffery and Rebecca Millhouse, their booty-shaking alone was worth the price of admission.

The history of the Vietnam War is a very sad and distressing one - the irony of America’s involvement, even more depressing. The county had been struggling against French and Japanese oppressors for hundreds of years, and in the crux of a revolution, had to deal with the invasion of America as well. The audience really needs to feel for the Vietnamese, personified in this piece by Kim. Kim’s situation is metaphor for the American condition, and I don’t quite feel that, that was effectively conveyed here. Despite being a musical, it still deals with some very real and very serious issues, which are ongoing and continue to affect the Vietnamese to this day. This production is a very gentle exploration of the ideas in the script. A light, (albeit quite dark) evening’s entertainment.

Paul Rodda