Review: Miss Saigon at Manchester Palace Theatre
This production is huge in every way.
One of the largest on tour with a cast of 38, orchestra of 15 and technical team of 32, it took 16 45-foot trailers to move the musical from one venue to another and it has landed in Manchester Palace for a month-long run.
Miss Saigon has now been seen by 38 million people - but what’s the fuss about?
When it first opened in 1989, Miss Saigon was a shot into the guilty heart of the American pysche, a country still dealing with the guilt and repercussions of the Vietnam War, 14 years after it ended.
At the heart of this national shame were the ‘Dust of Life’, the children of liaisons between American servicemen and Vietnamese girls - usually prostitutes - and this is theme which birthed Miss Saigon and still tugs at hearts across the world.
Cameron Mackintosh's reboot is an astonishing achievement and not just because of logistics.
It pulls together a remarkably talented cast from across the world to pull together a performance which is both enormous, yet deeply personal, every member of the audience gasps and sighs as the story progresses.
The story pulls no punches and is not for the faint-hearted and certainly not a gentle reminder of scandals gone by.
Inspired by Puccini’s ‘Butterfly’, Miss Saigon tells the story of ill-fated love between a GI Chris and a Vietnamese teenager - Kim - united in their desire to escape the war and Vietnam.
Act one opens with a punchy number from the exhibitionist and desperate prostitutes of Saigon and The Engineer (played by Red Concepcion), effectively their pimp, a larger than life character who brings together this story with wickedness and duplicity to the point of farce.
Without giving the story line away, the story follows Kim and Chris’s respective fates and the repurcussions of their brief love while showcasing through drama, song and remarkable choreography the repaid political changes of a nation (Vietnam) and the guilt of another (US).
This is stagecraft at its finest, the audience ducks as a a’Huey’ helicopter appears from the stage and hovers above it as the USA departs Vietnam, representing two worlds pulled apart.
Quite a remarkable performance by Sooha Kim as Kim, her voice soars, excelling in moments of high emotion, particularly those with her young son.
But the entire cast were remarkable, their voices and movement brought to high crescendo by the orchestra.
This is not to be missed. It plays until May 12.
20 facts about Miss Saigon
1. The Miss Saigon touring company includes 38 adult cast members, from 10 nationalities including British, Filipino, Thai, Chinese, Korean and Japanese, Singaporian, Swedish, Dutch and Malaysian.
2. It takes around 22 hours to take the show out of a venue and 3 days to put it in the next venue, working 24 hours a day.
3. 100 production and local crew are involved in putting the show in to a venue.
4. The wardrobe team do 104 loads of washing per week.
5. There are over 200 pairs of shoes in the show.
6. The bikinis worn by the girls in the American Dream number have a kilo of beads on each one.
7. There are 16 costume changes for each member of the female ensemble throughout the show.
8. The G.I. boy’s flak jackets and helmets are all original and have been used in action.
9. There are a total of 60 wigs in the show.
10. 16 different smoke machines and 12 fans create the atmosphere in the show, 6 of which come through tiny holes in the show floor to allow haze to appear in accurate places.
11. There are 5 follow-spots on the show, 3 right at the back of the auditorium and 2 that are just behind the proscenium which the operators have to be in a harnesses to climb up to. The operators are incredibly busy in the show with over 580 different cues to follow the cast around. Some of these cues are so subtle that it’s hard to even know how they’re being lit, not an easy thing to achieve!
12. This tour has more lighting elements than the Broadway and London versions of the show.
13. There are 600 props used in the show. Each prop has to be accounted for before each performance. This is carried out by the Assistant Stage Managers using a check sheet.
14. There are 15 members of the orchestra - Instruments include 8 Asian flutes, piccolo and Flute.There are 77 different percussion instruments in total. Unusual instruments include skull drums, ankle bells, singing bowls, Thai chap cymbals and kabuki blocks.
15. There are 42 radio microphones worn by the cast. These are hidden in hair, wigs and even hats.
16. There are 44 AA batteries used per show. These are all rechargeable batteries and there are 3 sets of batteries that are constantly being cycled. If we didn’t use rechargeable batteries, by the time the show arrived in Manchester, over 12,000 batteries will have been used.
17. There are specific speakers overhead, onstage and on the helicopter itself to provide the audio effect of the helicopter flight.
18. By the end of the tour, the helicopter will have travelled an Olympic running track over 50 times, that’s over 20,000metres!
19. MISS SAIGON has been performed in 32 countries, in 369 cities, in 15 different languages.
20. The musical has won over 70 awards including 2 Olivier Awards, 3 Tony Awards, and 4 Drama Desk Awards and has been seen by over 36 million people worldwide.