I first saw Miss Saigon in London’s West End in the 1990s with some friends visiting from America. They wanted to ‘do London’ and a glossy musical on Shaftesbury Avenue definitely ticks that box!
A few decades on it’s still going strong and the latest version, rebooted for the show’s 25th anniversary in 2014, is now on tour with a six-week stint at the Bristol Hippodrome.
We hadn’t visited the theatre since the legend that is David Hasselhoff starred as Captain Hook in the 2011 Christmas panto but to see a show that’s the very definition of ‘musical’ seemed like a good reason to return.
Set during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, it’s the story of Chris, an American soldier who falls in love with Kim, a naïve Vietnamese girl who ends up in a brothel in Saigon.
The US GIs hang out in ‘Dreamland’, a bar run by The Engineer, a super sinister but hilarious pimp wonderfully portrayed by the brilliantly named Red Concepcion.
Morals are abandoned but Chris and Kim’s attraction is something different.
But this is no happy love story. Without giving too much away, the ending is not a positive one.
Sooha Kim beautifully portrays the leading lady and her singing voice is impressive.
Ashley Gilmour plays Chris but for us, he lacked the full oomph of a leading man and his singing didn’t match up to Kim when it was just the two of them on stage.
But the star of show, by far, is Red Concepcion.
He is just awesome as The Engineer and in a show which lacks the multiple memorable tunes of other musicals, his performance of ‘The American Dream’, the best song of the night, is brilliant.
The scenes featuring the tightly co-ordinated marching and flag waving of Communist soldiers also left us awe inspired by the cast’s dancing skills and the famous moment when a helicopter lands at the American embassy is something you need to see!
Even Nina, who is not the biggest fan of musicals, enjoyed those moments.
Miss Saigon is a mega-musical and it shows.
It’s one of the largest productions on tour with a cast of 38, an orchestra of 15 and a technical team of 32 who bring the show to life with 16 45-foot trailers moving the production from one venue to the next.
This is West End and Broadway glamour in all its glory.
It’s not an easy watch though with its theme of how the West exploited the East illustrated in a scene with real imagery of the impact of the Vietnam War on the local people.
Even if musicals aren’t really your thing, Miss Saigon is well worth a watch.
If musicals are your thing, you will definitely enjoy this one!
Photography by Johan Persson