If you are planning on heading to the theatre for a happy ending musical like Hairspray, Grease or Mamma Mia, hit your right indicator and do a U-turn immediately. Miss Saigon is a tale of tragedy in a time that most who lived through it would prefer to forget. At the same time, it serves as a reminder of a senseless war and the aftermath that followed.
This musical, by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr is based on the opera Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini and tells the story of a young Vietnamese female, Kim, who is forced into prostitution at the time of the Vietnam War. Kim falls in love with an American soldier, Chris, whose plans to take Kim far from the shady den of iniquity are foiled at the fall of Saigon.
Chris returns to America, unaware that his short, but passionate encounter left Kim, pregnant with his child. Years later, Chris travels to Bangkok with his new wife on learning of his son, with the belief Kim is dead. While Chris has moved on from his wartime encounter, Kim has yearned to reunite with her love, the outcome is less than favourable.
GWB’s production has burst into Adelaide with high expectations and for the most is the spectacle expected. The sets are gorgeous and serve the story well; from the brightest of neons to the dimmest of seedy sadness. Transitions are seamless and almost like slight of hand, another cleverly executed and enormous set materialises before you.
Due to stage time, the Engineer is billed as the lead of this production. Named so for his ability to engineer anything to see his palm greased, he is the owner of the bodacious nightclub/bordello where Kim and Chris meet. Seann Miley Moore in the role sets camp to eleven and devours every scene he is in like a black hole. His sleaze and skulduggery make Fagan look like Mother Theresa.
As Chris, Nigel Huckle is gentle, believable and the epitome of a romantic lead. His vocals are flawless and even on the highest of notes you feel comfortable in you seat knowing each will drip like molasses from a spoon.
Matching Huckle’s talent as Kim is Abigail Adriano who is every bit the musical theatre star making it extremely hard to believe this is her professional lead debut. Adriano’s voice powers through belted song after belted song all while pouring emotion like it’s on tap, not once wavering.
Abigail, feel free to call it quits at the end of this production, you’ve reached perfection… but don’t, because the theatre world needs more of you. As indicated, the Engineer takes top billing, but in my humble opinion, Adriano’s performance earns her the final bow. In the vanilla role of Ellen, Chris’ wife, Kerrie Anne Greenland plays it sweet, caring and heartfelt and helps to juxtapose Chris’ torment.
The remainder of the cast give a good hard nod to versatility in a multitude of supporting characters which each work to drive the story. Staging by Director Laurence Connor and choreography by Associate Choreographer Richard Jones ensure that their talent is well displayed. A reduced orchestra for Adelaide does not detract from the beautiful score well maintained by Geoffrey Castles.
This production is not free from flaws. The audio balance, at times is, unbalanced and crucial dialogue is all too frequently lost in the drone of voices and orchestrations. I was no orphan in this position. The obfuscated dialogue made it impossible to track some of the scenes and frequently I was left wanting to know where, how or why.
This, for me, could not be overcome as I was frequently ripped from emotion or had to piece together where I was in the timeline. Accompanied by a die-hard fan, who had told me of her tendency to spill tears in the story, informed she was not moved at any point to this level.
Additionally, the tragic final scene needs a rework. At a time when every audience member should be gasping for air, they were too busy looking from side to side between vignettes like a spectator at a Wimbledon final and missed the opportunity to be moved to the intended state of woe. There are plenty of great moments and one will walk away entertained, just not wowed.
Festival Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Performance: Friday 5 January 2024
Season continues to 3 February 2024
Information and Bookings: www.miss-saigon.com.au
Images: Abigail Adriano as Kim – photo by Daniel Boud | Seann Miley Moore as The Engineer – photo by Daniel Boud | The Australian production of Miss Saigon – photo by Daniel Boud
Review: Jeff Lang