Miss Saigon

Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Alain Boubil (scenario)
Sheffield Theatres
Crucible Theatre

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Ernest Stroud (Ensemble) and the Ensemble in Miss Saigon Credit: Johan Persson
Joanna Ampil (The Engineer) in Miss Saigon Credit: Johann Persson
Jessica Lee (Kim) and Christian Maynard in Miss Saigon Credit: Johann Persson

A full house at the Crucible rose to give an enthusiastic response to Sheffield Theatres' new production of Miss Saigon.

The musical is an adaptation of Puccini's Madame Butterfly by the French creative team Claude-Michel Schonberg (composer) and Alain Boubil (writer interpreter) who transferred the action to Saigon and Bangkok before and after the Vietnamese war.

We are introduced to Kim, a recently arrived girl from the countryside, and Chris, an American soldier who meets her in the brothel she has just joined. A romance develops, a form of marriage takes place and a son is born. As the Americans engage in a rushed and desperate withdrawal from Saigon, the couple are separated and do not meet again for several years, by which time Chris has an American wife.

The scenario provides opportunity for several plangent love songs sensitively performed by Jessica Lee and Christian Maynard and ensemble scenes in the brothel, in the airport as the last flight out prepares to leave, a dangerous boat journey in rough seas and much more. A particularly effective scene choreographed by Jade Hackett introduces us to Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese army.

Joanna Ampil binds the action together in a powerful performance as The Engineer, the Madame of the brothel, who, along with many others, is left behind when the chaotic evacuation of Saigon occurs, survives re-education under the new regime and lives to start a new life in the North.

There is also a very strong performance from Ethan Le Phong as Kim's first husband and later as a leader in the Northern army. It is a feature of the production that so many members of the cast are of Far Eastern ethnic origin.

The team under the direction of Robert Hastie and Anthony Lau have collaborated closely to provide a setting that is a convincing though abstract representation of colonial Saigon. Designer Ben Stones has based the large screen that covers the back of the stage on the modernist Brise Soleil (breeze block) constructions of French Saigon which include apertures to allow light to pass through. The lighting and sound designers, Jessica Hung Han Yun and Mike Walker, have made good use of this feature in their own creative work.

The brothel setting provides plenty of scope for brightly coloured, scanty outfits, and for exciting use of colour in the lighting. The Engineer's outrageous costumes are a delight, show off the character to perfection and are a necessary antidote to the drabness of the soldiers' uniforms.

The orchestra under musical director Chris Poon is restrained when necessary but blasts the audience with rich tone and rhythm when the action requires it. The penultimate ensemble piece, led by Joanna Ampil is a showstopper.

I am not sure who played the boy in the performance I saw, but I have never seen a child so still and unobtrusive as this one. Credit to Sarah De Souza for finding him and others who worked with him.

A thrilling, dramatic spectacular for those who love musical theatre.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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