You always know you’re in for something really special at the Crucible, with the immersive experience of theatre in the round, and this reimagined Sheffield Theatres production of Miss Saigon, directed by Robert Hastie and Anthony Lau, is nothing short of remarkable. The cast are on stage from the start, sitting chatting around the edges along with the rest of the audience, before we’re literally snapped into the action and they all leap up to thrust the audience into the Dreamland nightclub, Saigon, 1975.
Set during the final days of the Vietnam war and the years that follow, Miss Saigon follows the story of GI Chris and Vietnamese bargirl Kim, who meet and fall desperately in love, before being forced apart with the fall of Saigon. With one of musical theatre’s most beautiful and powerful scores, Boublil and Schönberg’s multi-award-winning musical features much-loved songs such as Movie in My Mind, Sun and Moon and American Dream.
Joanna Ampil is sensational as the Engineer; the first woman to take on the part. She has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand from the minute she appears, commanding the stage with charisma and passion, and her superbly powerful vocals. American Dream is a highlight in Act 2, providing a stark contrast between her current situation and the life she imagines for herself in the USA. A mention must be made here of the dazzling costumes, which add enough pizazz to bring the house down.
Jessica Lee takes on the role of Kim, and she is an absolute triumph. She gives an incredibly emotive and natural performance, proving herself a hugely talented actress, and her stamina is astounding; she barely leaves the stage, and shows off her beautiful voice and impressive range as she belts out some of the most vocally challenging numbers in the show.
Chris is played by Christian Maynard, whose smooth and soulful voice adds layers to the songs I’ve not heard before. He gives a wonderfully understated performance as the disillusioned GI, who just wants to go home but then falls desperately in love; he and Lee have brilliant chemistry, and are entirely believable as the young lovers who can’t bear to face their lives apart. Maynard really comes into his own in Act 2, showing a real sensitivity in some of the more emotionally charged scenes.
Shane O’Riordan gives a brilliant performance as Chris’ brother-in-arms, John. He demonstrates his versatility as an actor as he moves from cocky GI to guilt-ridden activist and his rendition of Bui Doi at the opening of Act 2 is stunning.
Ethan Le Phong plays Thuy, the People’s Commisar and Kim’s former betrothed, and superbly captures the troubled nature of the character – a man torn between his feelings for Kim and his allegiance to the regime. His strong vocals lead the ensemble in ‘Morning of the Dragon’, and Jade Hackett’s cleverly angular and militant choreography in this number is both mesmerising and jarring in equal measure, portraying the might of the communist soldiers and their re-education programme.
Another stand-out performance comes from Shanay Holmes as Ellen. Her stunningly emotive rendition of ‘Maybe’ is the highlight of Act 2 for me, showing off the control of her beautifully rich voice and her talent as an actress in this poignant number.
Ben Stones has produced a masterclass in set design; doors seem to open everywhere, and a moving staircase provides a dynamism that keeps the action moving throughout the various settings of the show, coupled with highly effective projections designed by Andrzej Goudling and spectacular lighting by Jessica Hung Han Yun. This is a musically challenging show, with very few moments of silence, and under the musical direction of Chris Poon, the sound is immense, particularly in the larger ensemble numbers. And what an ensemble! They are totally committed to the piece, dynamic in action and emotionally stirring in sound and at times… well, they are just breath-takingly and heart-breakingly superlative.
This musical was just made to be performed in the round; the audience are fully immersed in the action throughout, particularly in the famous helicopter scene which is nothing short of spectacular. This is, without doubt, the best piece of musical theatre I have experienced in a very long time; I’ve never jumped to my feet so quickly as to join the emphatic and extended ovation. There aren’t enough stars or enough adjectives to do it justice, so I’ll just go with – simply extraordinary.
Miss Saigon runs at The Crucible Theatre Sheffield until Saturday 19th August.