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Miss Saigon at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Blockbuster Musical Is Birmingham's Summer Show
It was nine years after the success of Les Miserables that Boubil and Schonberg took inspiration from another sorrowful tale to create this landmark epic musical. Nearly three decades on, how will it fair with a new generation on its return to Birmingham?

Miss Saigon, Birmingham hippodrome, summer show in Birmingham
Romance and drama in Miss Saigon


Legendary musical Miss Saigon is the big summer theatre show at Birmingham Hippodrome, performed from August 1 until September 23. Based on Puccini's tragic Madame Butterfly opera, Miss Saigon transports the drama to the Vietnam war in the 1970's.

It cleverly maintains the opera's central theme of a doomed romance between an Asian woman and an American soldier while adapting the story for modern day audiences. Instead of a US lieutenant and a geisha, our leads are an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl, who has fled the countryside where she saw her family butchered.

What Boublil and Schonberg do so well is not shy away from the gritty, seedier side of life. Similarly to Les Mis, the underbelly of society is brought to the fore with their hopes, dreams and limitations. There's also the cynicism to question what really is the American dream? Something still relevant in current times.

Although some of the themes are a hard pill to swallow, its grittiness makes it stand out from many other musicals. It may not be a feel-good, happy show but instead it offers a rollercoaster of emotions and an epic journey that makes your heart bleed with regret for all of the characters involved.

Miss Saigon, Birmingham hippodrome, summer show birmingham
Grandiose set and characters in Miss Saigon


This multi-award-winning Cameron Mackintosh show has already recorded huge success in the West End and on Broadway since its opening in 1989 and so it should be no surprise that it is a slick, well-tuned affair.

There's a huge cast, a 15-piece orchestra and it's practically a small military operation involved in creating the set at each theatre. Birmingham is just the beginning as the opening gambit of a lengthy new UK tour.

Everything seems larger than life - the grandiose set, exact military dance routines of the Vietnamese Army and the striking(although often extremely skimpy) costumes in Saigon's red light district and later Bangkok's. Then there are the spectacular special effects that involve a life-size helicopter landing on stage. It still impresses after all these years.

Miss Saigon, Birmingham hippodrome, summer show birmingham
Miss Saigon is at Birmingham Hippodrome throughout the summer


Opening in a Saigon over-run with American GIs in the final days of the Vietnam War, we find 17-year-old country girl Kim swept up by notorious bar owner The Engineer, who persuades her to join his prostitutes.

It's a brassy opening of bikini-clad girls, suspenders and erotic dancing on tables - hence the recommended age of 12 and above. But this section also has one of the most poignant songs of the show in The Movie In My Mind.

It's about unrequited dreams and hopes for another life, sung by one of the bar girls. It sets the tone for the heartbreaking journey set to come.

Casting his shadow over the proceedings is pimp The Engineer, played by Red Concepcion. He's one of those rogues that you can't help but like despite all his seedy faults. He's a terrible person that is always out for himself, but he has the quirkiest character, the best lines and the best song - American Dream, in the Second Act.

He simply dazzles in the spotlight during that song but Red Concepcion is a fantastic asset, and in my opinion, the star of the show. He scintillates every time he is on stage.

Miss Saigon, Birmingham hippodrome, summer show in Birmingham
Miss Saigon is a modern day version of Madam Butterfly


Playing lovers Kim and Chris are Sooha Kim and Ashley Gilmour, who are well cast and give suitably emotive performances. They are just one part of a very strong cast. Ryan O'Gorman as American soldier John also stands out.

When you book, it's worth noting that at certain performances there are alternative actors. The Engineer will be played by Christian Rey Marbella, and Kim is played by Joreen Bautista.

Entertainment-wise, the drama is constant and frenzied. It moves constantly back and forth through time and continents; pre and post the revolution.

At its heart is also a conscience and there's a moving moment when American soldiers confront their legacy and responsibility to the children they left behind accompanied by photos from orphanages.

The whole show is beautifully executed and performed and while most of it will leave a lump in the throat, it's likely there will be a few tears too.

While it may not be my favourite musical of all time - it's probably far too sad for that- it is probably the most thought-provoking. That's because the show is a hard-hitting drama with powerful songs and lessons on life and war that still resonate today.

Everyone should see Miss Saigon at least once in their life. This is your chance.

RATING:


Miss Saigon
Birmingham Hippodrome
Tue 1 Aug - Sat 23 Sep
Tickets cost from 30 by calling the Box Office on 0844 338 5000 or from the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Audio described: Wed 23 Aug 7.30pm
Captioned: Wed 30 Aug 7.30pm
Signed: Wed 6 Sep 7.30pm

Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes including an interval.
Age guidance: 12 . No under 3s admitted. Miss Saigon contains some scenes and language which may not be suitable for younger audience members, including scenes of a sexual nature.
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Why? See the famous theatre blockbuster musical Miss Saigon
When: Until September 23, 2017
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome
Cost: From 30
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