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  • Marika Page

Breathing New Life into a Timeless Masterpiece: A Review of Sheffield Theatres' Miss Saigon

Shane O’Riordan (John) and Joanna Ampil (The Engineer) in Miss Saigon. Photo by Johan Persson.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The experience I had last Thursday watching Sheffield Theatres' production of Miss Saigon at the Crucible was unforgettable. I loved every minute and I have been reminiscing about the harrowing story and the beautiful music ever since. It was memorable, haunting, and showcased a plethora of amazing talent. This classic musical written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (based on Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly) is something I have always wanted to experience as a musical theatre lover. However, I was not prepared for how spectacular this production, cast and crew were truly going to be.

As we entered the theatre, seeing the set (designed by Ben Stones of Sheffield Theatres' Olivier Award-winning Standing At The Sky’s Edge fame) prior to the show seemed foreboding and ominous. The towering set wall was used spectacularly throughout the entirety of the show with neon lights, windows to showcase Chris Poon (musical director) and his orchestra, and a mesmerizing use of projections (by video and animation designer Andrzej Goulding) to tell the tale of Kim and Chris. The lighting design, masterfully crafted by Jessica Hung Han Yun, was truly exceptional. From the vibrant neon lights illuminating the Dreamland bar to the poignant moments when static lighting engulfed the theatre during the final scene, every lighting choice was brilliantly executed. The use of projection and lighting alongside the set design truly makes this production one of a kind. The standout scene in terms of staging in Miss Saigon is the famous helicopter scene. No spoilers here, but the way this was staged for this show completely enraptured the audience.

Members of the company in in Miss Saigon. Photo by Johan Persson.

Sheffield Theatres' production truly encompasses a reimagined stance on the timeless musical, with edits made to lyrics, and songs that have been cut. These changes provide a fresh alternative to a story that has been told many times before. Boublil and Schönberg’s original musical has rightly been criticized in the past for its racist, misogynistic ‘white saviour’ narrative. This reimagined production attempts to address these issues within its casting and rewrites of lyrics and dialogue.

By special arrangement with Cameron MacIntosh, this production has cast the first ever female in the role of the Engineer. Joanna Ampil (who has previously performed the role of Kim in the London cast and the tenth anniversary cast) steals the show as the Engineer. She brought the house down with her iconic rendition of “The American Dream” with a Marilyn Monroe-esque show-stopping number. Ampil is a force to be reckoned with, and had the audience enthralled with her energy in this iconic role.

Jessica Lee (Kim and Alternate Mimi) and Christian Maynard (Chris) in Miss Saigon. Photo by Johan Persson.

Jessica Lee (Kim) was an absolute powerhouse. Her voice brought so much pain, longing, and love to the role. Her harmonies with Christian Maynard (a phenomenal performance as Chris, the GI) were stunning. Both Lee and Maynard made these roles their own. At the top of the second act, Shane O’Riordan (John) received the biggest audience reaction of the night with his exquisite and heartbreaking rendition of “Bui Doi”, a poignant song about the children that are left behind during war.

The entire ensemble is spectacular from the rousing opening number “The Heat Is on in Saigon”, to Aynrand Ferrer (as Gigi) singing the melancholy “Movie in My Mind” to Ethan Le Phong (Thuy) leading the ensemble in “The Morning of the Dragon”. Particularly, the ethereal harmonies of the female ensemble during “The Wedding Ceremony” especially stood out to me. As an audience member, you could really feel the closeness and camaraderie of the ensemble. Prior to the start of the show, the cast slowly enters the theatre by sitting around the stage together. Most of the company continues this throughout and it feels like they are watching the story unfold alongside the audience, as well as supporting their fellow cast members. It was a lovely touch that made the show even more intimate in the Crucible that evening.

Ernest Stroud (Ensemble) and the Ensemble in Miss Saigon. Photo by Johan Persson.

At its heart, the story of Miss Saigon encompasses themes of sacrifice, love, and new beginnings. With an incredible cast and crew, a brand-new direction of a timeless tale and a beautiful orchestral score, the Sheffield Theatres production of Miss Saigon is one not to be missed.

Miss Saigon is at the Crucible until Saturday 19th August. For tickets, visit the Sheffield Theatres website.


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