Miss Saigon, Theatre Review, Grand opera House, June 19, 2019
By Conor O’Neill
This is my second or third of the Grand Opera House’s Summer Youth Production, and by far the most ambitious to date. Expect not so much as a musical, but a musical with an overtly opera overtones; not surprising really, considering it was based on Ciacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
And boy, have they thrown the works at it. A full orchestra sit tuning their instruments as a full GOH, all 1040 of us, take our seats and wait for the action to come. Set changes are kept to a minimum, but that allows the 16 principal characters tell a solemn story of post war Vietnam. It’s more often than not we get the footage of napalm, agent orange and other cruelties but rarely see the aftermath. Apart from the 16 leads we’ve 56, yes you read that right, 56 ensemble characters. Trying to follow them and count as they sang danced around the stage was something of a challenge.
The synopsis is this. A basic yet powerful one. Vietnamese country girl and orphan, Kim (Victoria McClements) moves to Saigon in 1975, weeks before the American retreat. The Americans, knowing they’re going home party like it’s the end of, err, 1975. Enter sleazy bar/brothel owner The Engineer (Conor O’Brien). Knowing the American dollar flow is soon to ebb, The Engineer holds a Miss Saigon beauty pageant to reap his last rewards before the cash cow moves to pastures new.
Sergeant Chris Scott (Nathan Johnston) somewhat unwillingly attends the show and a wins a raffle, the prize being a room for the night and a new life in the Grand Old U. S. of A, that just happens to be the pageant’s unwilling winner Kim, number 6. Here what gets me, how a cast aged between 12 and 18 can wrap their collective heads around topics like war, enslavement under the thin veil of employment, prostitution and over whelming tragedy. But they deliver.
Speaking with Ciara the press officer before the show, our chat turned to how tonight, and the further performances to go, will see some of the cast being names on the common tongue.
There’s rarely a word spoken, most is sung. from In The Heat Is On Miss Saigon to Movie In My Mind and What’s This I Find, powerful voice after powerful voice hits a home run and peels like an onion to the root of this tale. I heard a woman behind me cry.
If it’s laughter and show-hands you’re after, this is not the gig for you. The lighting is dark, the tone melancholy, the only laughter before the interval is that of Tam (Thea Marshall, aged three-years old) being dragged across the stage.
Jump forth to 1978, The Engineer is being chased by the Viet Cong led by Thuy (Harry Blaney), a meeting in Bangkok, Chris’ suburban life in Atlanta with wife Ellen (Lara Mulgrew) is disrupted. We all love a baddy on the run, double loves of the heart, and this piece of operatic/musical theatre runs the gauntlet of all of them. The musicians in the pit do the troop above justice. I could have sat there all night just listening, but the action on stage was forever catching my eye.
The singing, fantastic, big crowd pleasing moments when we as a collective touched base with the core of the matter. But, and I hate to and won’t criticize the actors, they all performed to pro level. I just think Miss Saigon was a risky, worthy challenge to hand to even a West End/Broadway set-up. Glorious, tremendous and remarkable. Just a tad too long. Some scenes were unnecessary and the power of the story slightly lost due to the length of show. For those maybe more high minded than myself, you’ll love this; as I did at most times. Just prepare yourself for a long haul.
Miss Saigon runs at Belfast’s Grand Opera House up to and including Sunday, July 21st. Matinee performances are on the Saturday and Sunday.
These kids have a ton of energy. Tickets are going quick, the matinees are your best chance to see Northern Ireland’s future stars.
For Booking information phone the box office on 02890 241919 or visit http://www.goh.co.uk