Miss Saigon - School Edition
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Friday 19th July 2013
With a West End revival on the horizon, 14 years after the closing of a 4000 show run at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Miss Saigon makes it's Essex debut with the slightly truncated School Edition in this ambitious production by the enterprising Tomorrow's Talent. Based on Puccini's Madame Butterfly and written by Schönberg and Boublil, who brought us the phenomenon that is Les Misérables, the story follows a tragic romance set during the Vietnam war between an American GI and a local beauty.
The set pieces for this impressive scale show made excellent use of the Civic stage, creatively framing some wonderful images. Red flags and Ho Chi Minh banners, girls in cages, the crowds at the embassy gates and, of course, the impressively realised helicopter. Having members of the company assist with performing the set changes should achieve a fluid continuation of the piece, the execution of which is especially important in a sung-through musical. There were a few examples in this performance where this was not quite the case and sets were still being put together as a number began, lighting unsure when to come up, late mic cues missing the start of a lyric, leaving the overall result somewhat untidy. To their commendation the performers were largely unfazed by this and the excellent musical accompaniment, (MD Mark Sellar, conducted by Patrick Tucker) helped to carry the pace and fluency so as never to disrupt the storytelling.
Excellent use was made of the huge ensemble in the company numbers, most notably the opening "The Heat is On in Saigon", the militaristic "The Morning of the Dragon" which also included some spectacular acrobatics, and the beautiful "Bui-Doi" at the top of Act 2. Director and school Principal Gavin Wilkinson knows how to get the absolute best from his talented students, and the hand of his guidance and experience can be felt in every scene.
Such is the extent of the talent available, the enormous musical and emotional undertaking that his the lead role of Vietnamese bar girl Kim was split between two young actresses, each performing twice in this run of four shows. This Friday night performance saw Laura Messin undertake the challenge, and utterly excel in doing so. Her beautiful voice soared across the packed house with an emotional depth that belied her years, ranging from meek immaturity through unswerving love and optimism to selfless desperation. A spectacular performance that deserved the swell of appreciation from the audience who were on their feet for her by the curtain. Her GI lover Chris was played with strength and maturity by a composed Bart Lambert, completely convincing in his emotional conflict. The silky smooth and stunningly powerful voice of Ollie Fox was brought to the role of John, a sincere characterisation played with sober integrity. Ellen, another dual casting, was given an earnest portrayal by Emma Bennett in this performance who shone in her intense hotel meeting with Kim, Jessica Moore brought a raw intensity to Gigi, and James Murphy was a strong and assured Thuy. A final dual casting opportunity for the wonderful role of The Engineer, which in this performance was given an almost show stealing interpretation by a magnificent Joshua Butcher. Captivatingly entertaining, his impudent, brassy study of the Vietnamese pimp was a welcome addition to the intense drama of the piece, managing to provide both a light relief in his characterisation while also portraying the selfish, conniving, egotistical traits of this abhorrent character.
Tomorrow's Talent have achieved a wonder. To even attempt this epic show is an enormous undertaking, but to pull it off with such impressive, moving results is an accomplishment that cannot be understated. Praise across the board for all the hard work that every member of the company, both on and off stage, have put in to this production and best wishes to all of the departing seniors as they take up well deserved places at an array of universities and drama schools.