Miss Saigon review from 1999

  • Date:
    Wednesday, March 3, 1999
    Review by:
    Sven Verlinden

    The interaction between David and Joanna is incredible, really fantastic. Especially David gives the most wonderful grins in the first scenes. I first thought Joanna would be too old for the role now, but no way ! I think Ive never ever seen such a good actress in the role with such a beautiful yet enormously powerful voice. She really gave the best of herself: I especially liked her big numbers but e.g. the Hotel scene was simply stunning as well. May we see her in a lot more things after Saigon !!!

    David hasn't gone downhill since last time I saw him. Simply amazing what he does. The only slight remark I have is that, when you're not sitting as close as I was (Front Row), you may not understand everything he sings and does, since he's doing e.g. Sun and Moon in such a tender way, that some of the lyrics get lost. But he really made the role his own now, really showing what the part is about.

    Leo Valdez is another matter. I simply HATE him, can't think of an understatement really... When you see him from as close as I did, you can't believe how a guy can do so little with such a role. He's not funny, has a horrible voice and acts pathetically. Long live the days when Junix Inocian was there....

    Anyway, Richard Lloyd King still rocks as John, really giving a very cool, yet very emotional performance. The way he sings Bui Dio without any effort really must be pointed out.

    Rachel Hale was on as Ellen on the matinee, and my goodness, she can sing !!!! Ive never been disappointed by any Ellens I've already seen at Drury Lane (Jacqui Scott, Emma Dears and Sarah-Jane Hassell to name but a few), but really, it doesn't show she is an understudy !!!! Brava !!! Thats all I can say, no remarks whatsoever...

    Robert Vicencio was doing Thuy the whole week, and I think he wasn't in very good voice that day. He didn't hit the high notes (didn't even attempt to), which is really a pity. Cant say I didn't like the acting, so I guess I should see him again to make a proper judgment.

    Imelda de los Reyes is now doing Gigi (after having seen her in Holland), which is nothing to be sad about. Nothing special either though...

    I must mention Desmond Harris and Jon-Jon Briones in the ensemble, because they were really very funny.

    Overall, one should definitely not feel any hesitation to buy a ticket for Saigon at the moment.

    P.S. Had a lovely chat with Joanna, David and Robert after the show, and I must say, they are very nice, very lovely indeed.

    (Sven Verlinden)

    After a period of approximately 2 years I decided it was time to pay another trip to see Miss Saigon, probably my favourite show of all time. This was my 10th visit and the show had been foremost in my mind recently because I too had heard several rumours from different sources that it was closing next Jul/Aug time to make way for Disney's The Lion King.  These rumours had come from pundits within the profession and from so many different sources that I really started to believe them, so much so that I voiced them on the Centre Stage web-site which is for the Boublil and Schonberg fans world-wide.  This caused some reaction, including a response from a guy called "David S" who it seems could be David Shannon who is currently playing the role of Chris in the show.  He said that it was not closing and questioned why it would close when it was making so much money!

    My trip to the theatre on Saturday 15th August for the matinee performance did nothing to curtail these fears when the stalls section of the auditorium was probably half empty.  One surefire way of a show closing would certainly be the lack of audience which seemed to bring an element of truth to the rumours.  I have never in my previous 9 visits seen the stalls so empty!

    Anyway, the show itself.  As I hadn't been for 2 years I was expecting to see some changes since my last viewing and I wasn't disappointed.  There were many subtle movement changes and some musical alterations also.

    The opening number "The heat is on in Saigon" was played extremely fast, so much so that most of the lyrics were practically inaudible.  This did not bode well for the rest of the afternoon, however, this only happened in the opening so I don't know whether intentional or not?  I think the conductor was perhaps a stand in as he was dressed extremely casually and also looked nothing like Julian Bigg who was credited and pictured in the programme. Anyway, things soon resolved themselves musically with "The movie in my mind" which was sung prettily by Christine Sambeli Marquez playing GiGi.

    Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to have Joanna Ampil in the role of Kim and had Cezarah Campos instead, who gave a very good performance although I found her middle register to be a little weak.  Chris was played by David Shannon who has been promoted from understudy and The Engineer was Leo Valdez.

    I found David Shannon to be a most superb Chris and would rank him certainly with the original Simon Bowman who made such an impression that all other incarnations of the role have since disappointed me.  I was so pleased to see all the movement brought back to the show, the frolics on the bed, cuddling, smooching - all the movement that was there when the show first opened.  Chris and Kim were very animated and worked very well together with David putting a lot of emotion into his role which I think heightened Cezarah's performance.  The next few numbers set the scene nicely and I really believed that they had fallen totally in love, ending with the powerful "Last night of the world".

    "Three years of school was nice, in rice fields planting rice" took us to Ho Chi Minh City in April 1978 where the Engineer tracked Kim down for her cousin and led us to "I still believe" which is in my opinion the best song in the show.  Beautifully sang by both Cezarah and Gunilla Backman as Ellen.  The shooting of Thuy was well handled and Kim's impassioned cry during "This is the hour..." always tugs at the old heartstrings.  "I'd give my life for you" was again performed well and ended the first act.

    Second act opened with "Bui-Doi" which thankfully has been restored to its former glory and is not the rather hip soul version you'll find on the Complete Symphonic Recording.  This was the prime reason I haven't been to see the show for 2 years - this arrangement of this pivotal number ruined it for me so I was very pleased to see it "corrected" in my humble opinion.

    Off to Bangkok where Leo Valdez really shone in "What a waste".  One thing I noticed about his performance was that he seems to excel in the comedic side of the role - the sincere aspects I found a little unbelievable but he certain delivered the goods here in encouraging the crowds into his club. The fall of saigon was well done as usual, although the helicopter arrives quite early on in the scene which ruins it for me a bit.  I remember when originally you heard it before it arrived which in my opinion made the threat greater.  Now it seems to arrive with the punctuality of a london bus, however, still a very poignant scene and Chris's impassioned cry also gave heightened emotion as he has to leave Saigon and Kim behind.

    Gunilla Backman gave a good rendition of "Now that I've seen her" in their hotel bedroom after Kim's departure.  Cezarah played this scene very well imploring Ellen to take Tam back to America - this had also been given a facelift with new movements and heightened emotion.  This led into the best Chris I have seen singing "The confrontation".  David Shannon was excellent here and put such emotion into that scene.  He really does excel at the emotion of the role and brings an anger to Chris which I haven't seen for a long time.  "The American Dream" was excellent and has been given a bit of an overhaul.  The car came much further downstage, the smoke was great and the lighting also seemed revamped which made this rather rare dance number in the show extremely impressive.

    Then into "Little god of my heart" with Kim's suicide.  This was well done and has again been restaged since the last time I saw it.  Kim now gives Tam to The Engineer who takes him outside to Chris, Kim shoots herself and Tam is given to The Engineer.  This created a very interesting love triangle with Chris and Kim stage left, The Engineer holding Tam centre stage and Ellen helplessly watching stage right.  Just as the curtain is almost down Ellen reache out her arms and Tam runs to them as Chris gives another impassioned cry of "Kim" at the end and is much more upset by Kim's death than previously - extremely well played by David again who had real tears rolling down his face along with, by this time, most of the audience.

    All in all a most pleasant visit to this familiar show.  Many new elements for those who have seen it before and all the factors that make it a mega-musical for those that haven't seen it.  The empty seats in the auditiorium did not help with the applause at the end which seemed quite weak and the curtain calls were strained to say the least.  The last one was certainly unrequired and made for rather an awkward moment as most of the audience had stopped clapping and were shifting in their seats.

    Overall something about the show seemed a little lacklustre, despite all these good performances.  David Shannon was most definitely the star of the show with some very talented co-stars in the cast.  I particularly enjoyed the new staging of some of the key scenes although some of them were crying out for it.  Even the theatre itself is starting to look a little sad inside and I know that if these rumours of closure, just prior to the 10th Anniversary, are true; I will be a little sad inside too!

    (Jon Calton)

    I think this has to be one of the best performances I have seen. Robert Sena was a superb engineer and hardly recognisable from his Thuy days with a wig which looked like a dishevelled scarecrow, but it looked right for the role. He has so much energy and was just excellent. It is hard to get over how good it was, but just his gestures and mannerisms made the part.

    Riva again was an excellent Kim. She is so 'dainty' which made her seem more vunerable but her acting was the best in any Kim I've seen especially in the opening scene, the 'I still believe to this is the hour scene' and the nightmare sequence.

    Good support from Paul Collis and Colin Charles as Chris and John. Jacinta was a little falt as Ellen, but OK. The ensemble playing was especially brought to the fore during the Fall of Saigon and whether I've forgotten or didn't take much notice last time but the slow motion sequences made the plight and desperation of the vietnamese more harrowing. The choreography of this scene is brilliant.

    One nice touch was during the 'marriage scene' where at one point Gigi goes up to the altar and touches it in a 'I wish it was me' manner - very sad and touching.

    Finale: very touching and emotional. tears from me as always !!

    (Sarah Wright)

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