It’s hard to believe that Miss Saigon is nearly thirty years old. It exploded onto the West End stage during the peak of the musical theatre revolution. This new wave of large scale shows was ushered in chiefly by the work of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, producer, legendary impresario and man with the midas touch. The team responsible for lyrics, songwriting and production had already sparked an unexpected major hit with Les Miserables and moved on to this epic Madame Butterfly-esque fictional piece, set to the backdrop of war-torn and mid-revolutionary Vietnam. For those unfamiliar with this style of sung-through musical, this isn’t a chirpy event with a chorus line. Yes, there are many light and funny moments, but the crux of this story is dramatic and painful, not least because Miss Saigon holds a mirror up to the kind of dark things that did – and still do – happen in poverty stricken areas caught in both literal and political crossfires. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you hopeful and it makes you sad – in short, it moves you in the way good, effective theatre should.
Despite its age, Miss Saigon is still bang up to date and in touch. There have been some tweaks from the original, but this touring production is in no way a pared-down version, being every bit as good as anything you’ll find in London or on Broadway. The cast is impeccably strong led by Sooha Kim as the empathic female protagonist, Ashley Gilmour as the conflicted Chris and comedic light relief provided by Red Concepcion, as The Engineer we love and hate in equal quantities. Vocally, it’s faultless and the ensemble pieces – most notably This is the Hour – feature thrilling harmonies that effortlessly reach eye-wateringly high notes. The staging also takes your breath away, not least for the musical’s coup de théâtre (which for spoiler reasons I won’t reveal).
A feast for the eyes and ears, this is musical theatre at its very best. That’s not to say the story and style will be everyone’s cup of tea: it’s more intense and dark than the many frothy biographical tribute shows that are currently being churned out at a pace and packed out on tour, but it’s also better theatre – no doubt about it. The tickets aren’t cheap, but they are value for money – this kind of show doesn’t come to Edinburgh every week, so if you enjoy dramatic musicals, Miss Saigon is not to be missed.
Miss Saigon runs in Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, until 17th February 2018.