by Andrea Gaini
5th December 2017, Wales Millennium Centre
The Vietnam War, also known as “the biggest mistake the U.S. has ever made”, represented the fight against the spread of communism in the East and the promotion of Western democracy. Such a morally rightful objective instigates to forget the outrageous number of people who died in the mud, fighting for one side or the other, the women commercialised and deprived of their virginity to satisfy the thirst of men and the countless kids left to grow up in a destroyed city.
Miss Saigon, written by the two not-so-new artists Schönberg and Boublil, brings us on the streets of Saigon, where Kim (Sooha Kim), a young Vietnamese, and Chris (Ashley Gilmour), an American soldier, meet for the first time and fall in love with each other while the war around them devastates the people of Vietnam and their territories.
The story begins when Chris’ friend, John, decides to buy him a room to have sex with a girl, Kim, who will soon become his wife and mother of his son. Their love-story is quickly interrupted by Chris’ departure to go back to America when the American Embassy decides to withdraw its presence from Saigon, leaving Kim alone waiting for her husband to come back. The show flashforwards a few years to show a mother and her son waiting for their husband and father to come and save them from poverty. But, when Chris comes back things have changed and will never be able to come back to normality.
The cast is made up of great artists from around the globe, sharing great acting and dancing abilities. The singing, however, could have done with a little more powerfulness, especially for the main characters. Sooha Kim’s brilliant voice often seemed to be more convincing in her high range rather than in the lower keys where, a few times she appeared to be struggling to give the right volume to her voice, which remained incredibly gentle and beautiful. Ashley Gilmour was the weaker sex of the couple: his voice in the higher range seemed to be lacking the head resonances needed for the sound to go over the orchestra and express all its power. In a few cases, in fact, the music of the orchestra even sounded to be covering him. Additionally, the young and soft timbre of his voice, despite it being very enjoyable, felt often more suitable and credible for the role of Romeo than an American GI.
The fundamental role of The Engineer, narrator, and man-out-of-time in the story is assigned to the very experienced and talented Red Concepción. From start to finish his performance was impeccable. He moved on stage like a lion in his territory, owning the scene and, every now and then, even stealing the lights from his colleagues. His performance of “The American Dream” was a joyful mix of emotions which captures the audience and makes them stand up during the final greetings.
Musically speaking, this show is incredibly broad and peculiar. It stretches out to Asian melodies and connects them with the most classic Western music. At times, however, this musical fails to reach out and move the audience. In fact, even the gloomiest moments of the story appear to be temporary and forward-looking to a happy ending which never comes. At other times, the music is engaging and entertaining creating a good atmosphere and memorable moments.
The re-adaptation of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly to the modern context is very well executed. Schönberg and Boublil maintain the main skeleton of the opera, yet expanding the love relationship between Kim and Chris and developing a whole new life to the role of The Engineer (Goro in Madame Butterfly).
The show trails the power of love to break boundaries and to push ourselves to our limits for the people we love. The production and the visual interpretation were certainly the best part of this performance, highlighting the important aspects of the show, and making it smooth and enjoyable from the very beginning ‘til the very end.
Miss Saigon will be at the Wales Millennium Centre until 6th January 2018.