When I first saw Miss Saigon, aged 14, I was completely transfixed. The story of love and war, the power of the music, and the utter heartbreak. Over the next 14 years, I listened to the soundtrack again and again on repeat. I sang the songs to myself, fumbled through the tunes on the piano, and played the musical over and over in my memory. When I saw the show again, half my lifetime later, all the same feelings surfaced.
In the midst of the Vietnam War, amongst the pain and suffering of both civilians and soldiers, is a tiny glimmer of hope. This is the love story of Kim, a 17-year-old who has fled from her village, and Chris, an American GI who is just about ready to leave Saigon. As their inconvenient love is torn apart, it becomes a story of the limitless capabilities of a mother’s love.
Cameron Mackintosh’s production uses rich colours and slick choreography to contrast Vietnamese culture with the gritty, gloomy reminders of war. Huge vibrant numbers play against intimate duets, complimented by the staging and ensemble.
Movie special effects have spoilt us in recent years, and so there was one scene I was worried about. I remembered a helicopter arriving on the stage, and the effects making it seem so real – I was concerned about whether it would look ‘real enough’ compared to what we see on the big screen. In 2018, as the blades spun and the sound effects thundered through the auditorium, the helicopter that takes the GIs out of Saigon seemed just as real.
Sooha Kim takes on the lead role of Kim, and she is outstanding, keeping the audience gripped with every note. Not only does she show the audience the pain and desperation of Kim’s story in her voice, she shows it physically. Playing opposite her is Ashley Gilmour as Chris, who is equally as talented. Together, they are completely believable, and the audience is invested in their story from the first meeting, until the tragic end.
Adding beautifully to the heartache, Zoe Doano plays a very likeable Ellen, Chris’s new wife in America. As she sings about hearing Chris say Kim’s name in his sleep, she absolutely grabs everyone right by the heartstrings, and makes them think, ‘What would I do?’
Some stories glorify war. Miss Saigon does the very opposite. It is, as the lyrics from a song about abandoned children fathered by American GIs says: “a living reminder of all the good we failed to do.” In Saigon, in the very worst of war, even love does not save you.
Words by Katie Dancey-Downs