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‘Realistic and gritty’ Miss Saigon musical doesn’t disappoint

REVIEW: Miss Saigon is one of the iconic shows of its generation and this production goes right to the heart of it.

Those who love the musical will not be disappointed and those who don’t know it, well, this is a great opportunity to do so.

This realistic and gritty rendition has all the familiar ingredients the audience hangs out for, from the appearance of Kim’s cute son to the visual spectacle of the helicopter.

As always, the Showbiz company worked hard and gave it their all, but the show’s success rests on the three main leads and especially the engineer.

Marcus Rivera was excellent as the sleazy, self-serving manipulator making a buck amid the chaos. Rivera made the transitions of the character credible with the punchy The Heat is On in Saigon and If You Want to Die In Bed, the menacing The Morning of the Dragon and a tantalisingly ironic The American Dream. Rivera relished this role, singing with an easy confidence and plenty of cheeky sauce.

As the thwarted couple, Tina Bergantinos-Panlilio (Kim) and Jack Fraser (Chris) dug deep in delivering two very powerful performances. I particularly enjoyed I’d Give My Life for You (Kim) and Why God Why? (Chris) and the tenderness they both showed in The Last Night of the World and Sun and Moon. Throughout they were superb and their intensity never let up.

The scantily clad girls were called on to do some fairly brazen things which they did, bravely and unselfconsciously. While the cast definitely looked the part and were robust when aggression was needed, on occasion they didn’t sound quite so secure with occasional weaknesses showing up in exposed passages, the wedding ceremony (Dju Vui Vai) a case in point which came across a tad strained.

The male chorus in Bui Doi, however, was as stirring a rendition as you could hope to hear. It also saw James Foster (John) at his dramatic best, hectoring from behind a lectern while heart-wrenching images played out on the screen behind him. Hannah Austin (Ellen) shone in an impassioned account of Now That I’ve Seen Her and her duet with Kim (I Still Believe) was similarly strong. Daniel Aguilar did well as the aggrieved Thuy, suitably officious and volatile.

The band was solid, a nice touch having the live sax player in the club but I did feel some of the ethnic samples were overly prominent in the mix at times. Sets were deceptively simple but very effective, the lighting effects bringing warmth to the sun, an eerie menace to the advancing mob and gravitas to Ho Chi Minh’s statue. The flags, political imagery and garish lights in The American Dream were also neatly offset by the monotone flats and hints of bamboo.

The cute “aw” moment of Tam’s reveal usually gets more of a reaction but curiously didn’t. However, look out for Thuy’s ghost in the second half – it is surprisingly chilling.

The season runs at the Isaac Theatre Royal until 12 October.

END

The Saunders & Co Season of Miss Saigon