After the resounding success of the 25th-anniversary production and it’s spectacular run at the Prince Edward Theatre, Miss Saigon is now heading on tour so you’ll be able to catch the hit show on your doorstep.
With fond memories of my heart being broken into pieces when I watched for the first time in London in 2014, I was excited to step inside the rehearsal room and witness how the production has evolved ahead of it’s UK tour. Watching the second act of their first full run-through completely consumed me with emotion – even without the costume, set and lighting.
Miss Saigon is rated amongst the epic top-scale musicals alongside Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera due to its complex story and epic musical numbers. Associate Director Jean-Pierre Van Der Spuy is returning to the production after directing the West End revival. Excited to return back to the show he said: “I am a bit of a history geek so I love tethering everything we do within the piece to truth and to the root it all comes from. I think even though it is a period piece, I think it has a lot to say in regard to our world today and it reflects that.”
Cameron Mackintosh’s powerful production tells the tragic story of the romance between Vietnamese girl Kim who is orphaned in the war and forced to become a bar girl in Saigon, at a bar owned by the unsavoury Engineer. One evening she meets and falls in love with American GI Chris. Opening in Saigon and then relocated to the Vietnam war, it’s a story of heartbreak, pain and anguish.
Earlier at the Birmingham Hippodrome’s season launch, Jean-Pierre mentioned that he believes Miss Saigon is much more accessible than musicals such as Les Mis. “I think it is more accessible because there is a lot more variance within the writing,” he said. “You have musical theatre comedy in the shape of things like American Dream, you have those big impassioned duets that are very much in the style of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil with Last Night Of The World and Sun and Moon. So stylistically there are lots of different things within the piece which I think makes it more accessible. Which means that whoever comes there is something in that piece that can appeal, even if you don’t like musical theatre.”
Coming back to such a famous production and starting all over again, Jean-Pierre highlighted the importance of having a fresh mind. “There are maybe 30% that have done the show before and I said to them ‘those of you who have done the show you need to empty your minds of what the show was’ and we started all together on page one with zero idea of what it is,” he explained. “It will feel like Saigon, the show that people know and love. But the people and the actors have brought something completely different and I think that is the only way the people will have ownership over the material.”
Eva Noblezada became famous for making her debut as Kim in the Prince Edward Theatre in the West End, and as she heads over to Broadway Sooha Kim will be stepping into the role for the UK tour – who also made her debut in the West End production. She said: “It is a story that shows instantly to the audience how sad war is, so Kim to me has a very special part in my heart as it is what I debuted in and so I always want to do it justice.” In the show, Kim falls in love with GI Chris, who is going to be played by Ashley Gilmour who also appeared in the London production.
It’s an incredibly emotional journey to go on, particularly the characters of Kim and Chris, as they go through an abundance of emotions when they’re torn apart from each other. “For me you have to look at and try and understand what it is like to have been in war and what those people went through. Chris got drafted first in the war and then left and I think this happens to a lot of people but they went back home and didn’t really feel like they belonged so they went back to war because there they had a sense of belonging and something that made their life seem worthwhile,” Ashley said.
“It is also about going on that journey with Kim, in the second half of the show he has left Kim and had a year of depression and met and married someone else, so you have to think about what he has been through and where he is now. If you invest in all that stuff, the lyrics and music take you on that journey so when you’re in the scene in that moment you don’t really have to think about it that much – it kind of just happens.”
When Chris is pulled apart from Kim, moving forward with his life he remarries an American lady named Ellen who will be played by Zöe Doano who recently left Les Mis where she played Cosette. She is bombarded with emotion in the second act of the production when Kim finds her when searching for Chris. Unaware of Chris’ past love and the struggles she has been through, Zöe talked about how she approaches the character in the show. “Ellen literally goes from 0 to a hundred in a split second and that’s challenging to do, but thrilling at the same time,” she said.
Probably the most interesting character in the show is The Engineer, who is the sleazy hustler and owner of Dreamland the Saigon bar and brothel. It’s a role famous for being dynamic and elevating the show with humour. He is a real character, but tough to play, taking on the role for the UK tour is Red Concepcion who has extensive theatre credits in his hometown of the Philippines. He delved into his role by saying: “The engineer is a very complex character, he is very charming but wild as he has a million tools at his disposal which he can whip out. His mind is always spinning and the gears are always working and getting to a stage where I can get from point A to point B with the click of a finger is quite challenging.
“I think the audience will love him but hate him at the same time as he is what you do not want to be. Especially for Asians that go through war, I come from the Philippines and it was under colonial war for the longest time and so to be in that situation and to turn into the kind of person that he is is difficult.”
This production of the show has all the cinematic elements you’d expect to see on Broadway. Jean-Pierre elaborated: “The design is the same as the Prince Edward theatre – there will still be the helicopter and those big set pieces we had before. So it does have that moving, breathing quality.” Zöe added: “I can imagine there are people who were desperate to see it and couldn’t catch it in London and are so happy that it is coming to their local city. You get a lot of tours but this is a big one, Cameron Mackintosh doesn’t do things by half, it isn’t a shrunk down version of the London show, it is literally as if we are picking it up and putting it down in your home town.”
Miss Saigon will be touring the country, tour dates and information can be found on the website.