Cameron Mackintosh in association with GWB Entertainment. Adelaide Festival Theatre. 5 Jan 2024
It is a visually spectacular depiction of Saigon we are met with as the curtain rises at the Adelaide Festival Theatre, we are not merely witnessing another performance of Miss Saigon, but rather an evocative reminder of the profound impacts of war on human lives. This production, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, delves into the heartrending realities faced by those caught in the crossfire of battle.
Deeply rooted in the horrors of conflict, the foundation of the story poignantly addresses the profound and lasting effects of war, focussing on the turmoil and moral dilemmas of the show’s protagonists, Kim and Chris. Particularly heart-wrenching is the plight of the half-Vietnamese, half-American children, often referred to as 'bui doi' or 'dust of life' they were born of the ‘relationships’ between Vietnamese women and American soldiers. Abandoned and ostracised, these children symbolise the long-lasting scars of war, embodying a generation born from turmoil and left to navigate a world that views them through a lens of prejudice and hardship. Miss Saigon lends a voice to their often overlooked and long forgotten stories, with a particular focus on the child born to Kim and Chris, a living symbol of fractured worlds, broken promises, and the lasting human cost of war.
In the role of Kim, Abigail Adriano not only captures the essence of a young woman caught in the unforgiving tide of war but also showcases an exceptional vocal prowess that is a cornerstone of this production. Her portrayal of Kim's evolution, from innocence to confronting her grim reality, is equal parts moving and profound. Adriano's voice, commanding in both the upper and lower ends of her register, brings a nuance to Kim that reflects the varying shades of her emotional journey. Whether in moments of tender vulnerability or passionate outcry, her voice resonates with a power that captivates the audience. Adriano's embodiment of a mother's love and a woman's desperation against insurmountable odds is not just seen but felt. Brava! On opening night, Kim’s son Tam is played with bravery and grace by Michael Nguyen Chang.
Nigel Huckle's portrayal of Chris masterfully captures his character's internal conflicts. His performance underscores the emotional and psychological toll of combat and brings to life the struggle between duty and personal morality. Huckle's exquisite operatic tones deftly navigate the score's intricacies, even in its more formulaic moments. An exceptionally skilled actor to boot, Huckle's chemistry with Adriano is electrifying. Their dynamic pairing creating a palpable connection that forms the backbone of the story's tragic love narrative.
Seann Miley Moore embodies the complex, morally ambiguous, and pivotal character, The Engineer. Moore's performance is a compelling exploration of human nature's duality, masterfully navigating the chaos of war with a perfect blend of cunning and charisma. Moore's portrayal is a tour de force! Described in their bio as "an embodiment of queer Asian excellence," never a truer word was written. Moore 's performance of The Engineer stands out as the most exceptional one has seen. They completely make the role their own, skilfully combining the character's humour, sensitivity, and self-loathing with aplomb.
The supporting lead characters of John, played by Lewis Francis, Thuy, played by Laurence Mossman, Ellen, played by Kerrie Anne Greenland, and Gigi, played by Kimberley Hodgson all offer exceptional support and round out the talented cast with individually solid performances. The opening act 2 number Bui Doi, led by Huckle with Laurence Mossman and the male ensemble is a vocal highlight of the production.
The ensemble's performance also resonates deeply, capturing the narrative's intense emotional subject. Their vivid depiction of the streets of Vietnam embody the vibrant yet scarred spirit of the Vietnamese people. This production doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of its setting either. It features scenes of overt sexual acts and extreme violence performed with a raw honesty that adds an unmistakable layer of authenticity to the brutal reality.
The set design by Matt Kinley and Totie Driver, enhanced by Associate Set Designer David Harris, significantly elevates this production. The versatile, multi-tiered set facilitates smooth transitions across various scenes. A highlight is the evacuation scene in Kim’s Nightmare (Fall of Saigon 1975), where mobile embassy fencing is employed to effectively convey the chaos and urgency with stunning choreography (Richard Jones). The helicopter is particularly remarkable, as a full-scale chopper dominates the stage, creating a breathtaking spectacle. This scene reaches its climax as the helicopter dramatically takes off with principal cast members hanging from its sides, a powerful visual that captivates the audience and combines the best of lighting, sound, production, and performance. Despite these strengths, Bruno Poet's lighting, while intending to be mood-setting, is occasionally overly dark, at times obscuring the finer details of the performance and affecting the visual storytelling's clarity. The orchestra, under the Musical Direction and Batton of Geoffrey Castles is exceptional.
The direction of this production, by Laurence Connor, cleverly intertwines the spectacle with intimate storytelling, ensuring that important messages are not lost. This production of Miss Saigon is a stirring testament to the cast and creatives. It invites the audience to reflect on the less visible casualties of war, at one point through a stirring projection of the faces of some of the 'bui doi' (projection by Luke Halls). Miss Saigon has always been a slower burn than its contemporaries, however this is a production that will not only resonate with the audience but also challenge them to confront the uncomfortable truths about war and its aftermath.
When: 2 to 28 Jan
Where: Festival Theatre