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Plunged into the Terrors of War

Her Majesty’s Theatre
11/03/2023 -  & November 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, December 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 2023
Claude-Michel Schönberg: Miss Saigon (orch. William David Brohn)
Seann Miley Moore (The Engineer), Abigail Adriano (Kim), Nigel Huckle (Chris), Kerrie Anne Greenland (Ellen), Nick Afoa (John), Laurence Mossman (Thuy), Kimberley Hodgson (Gigi), Antonio Aninipoc/Michael Nguyen Chang/Donatella Huynh/Anderson Kwok/Jude Ng/Aisha Honey Salgado/Chloe Tu/Archer Wang* (Tam), David Duketis (Schultz), Patrick Jeremy (Asst. Commissar), Nicholas Kong (Club Owner)
Orchestra Victoria, Opera Australia Ensemble, Laura Tipoki (Conductor)
Cameron Mackintosh (Producer), Laurence Connor (Director), Jean‑Pierre van der Spuy (Australian Production Director), Bob Avian (Musical Staging), Geoffrey Garratt (Additional Musical Staging), Totie Driver, Matt Kinley (Production Designers), Adrian Vaux (Design Concept), Andreane Neofitou (Costume Designer), Bruno Poet (Lighting Designer), Mick Potter (Sound Designer), Luke Hall (Projections), Richard Jones (Associate Choreographer), Alfonso Casado Trigo (Musical Supervisor), Guy Simpson (Australian Musical Supervisor)

Operatic in its structure; cinematic in its visuals; gut‑wrenching in its depictions of human suffering and exhilarating in the standard of the performers, this production of Miss Saigon by Opera Australia has everything. From the downcast appearance of the orphan girl Kim at the opening of the first act, to the wild hedonistic world of the brothels and bars of Saigon and Bangkok, we are taken on a roller‑coaster ride of emotions, sensory insights, terror and panic as Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese in 1975.

The setting evocatively depicts the ramshackle shanty town of the riverside district of Saigon, Streets pulse with bicycles, vendors, hustlers and American GIs on R&R leave, seeking distraction among the bars and prostitutes from the horrors of a pointless war. Kim has no‑one left after her family were wiped out in a village fallen victim to the battle between East and West. She falls into the hands of The Engineer, a pimp, conman and deceiver who runs Dreamland, a brothel which hosts a “Miss Saigon” pageant of its working girls.

Opera Australia has cast a diverse and brilliantly talented team from local and international talent to bring this re‑imagining of Illica and Giacosa’s 1904 Madama Butterfly to the stage. This Melbourne presentation is a reprise of that given in Sydney and will tour to Adelaide into the coming year. Moving from their usual Melbourne home of the State Theatre due to renovations, this show is staged in the massive Art Déco splendour of Her Majesty’s Theatre which has hosted every form of theatrical entertainment in its century old auditorium.

The company addressed the sometime criticism of non‑Asian performers depicting Asian characters and gone further to make The Engineer into a camp cross between cabaret grotesque and drag, casting non‑binary performer Seann Miley Moore. The character is at once hugely entertaining and deeply threatening. It is quickly established that the only interest being cared for is that of The Engineer and an unrequited desire to get a visa for the dream movie world of the USA. This performance is beyond energetic: it moves from seething to sleaze to complete frenzy, changing chameleon-like as every opportunity to use others to clamour out of the disaster in Saigon. This is supremely theatrical performing and dazzlingly engaging.

Against this grotesquery, the simplicity of Kim is compellingly portrayed by young Australian Abigail Adriano who at 19 years is no new‑comer to performing but in this show makes her professional lead role debut. Her lovely mezzo voice varies in shade and colour, adding to her highly accomplished acting skills. She is completely credible in every aspect of the character: unassuming and vulnerable, she is also resolute in her defence of the love‑child she bears to the GI Chris. She sings that she will do anything to protect him and finally, she must do so out of necessity. Hers is a stupendous performance which brought screaming, stand‑up adulation from a capacity opening night crowd.

As the GI, Australian-American Nigel Huckle is remarkable for the breadth of the character he creates. He is much more than the Pinkerton of Madama Butterfly, we are allowed into the heart of his world of pain, doubt and agonized memory. He has a rich baritenor voice, ideal for this piece and his soul-searching “Why, God, Why?” from the first act opens a door to a characterisation that brings Chris to life as a believable individual caught in an incomprehensible situation. In every aspect of the role, Huckle breathes life into a rounded and plausible character; his performance is riveting and was greeted with massive praise from the audience.

Of the other leading characters, it must be said that there is a commendable uniformity of singing strength, acting ability and clarity of diction. The characters of John, Gigi, Ellen and Thuy are all brought solidly to life. Strong singing and confident movement through the complex choreography and staging are hallmarks of a highly capable team and this production is nothing if not marvellously good teamwork.

Conductor Laura Tipoki has a solid background in musical theatre in Australia and New Zealand. Under her baton, Orchestra Victoria shows once again its versatility and exemplary standard. Miss Saigon like its musical sibling Les Misérables is played through as an opera. There is little spoken dialogue and the orchestra must support an enormous range in Schönberg’s score from the gentlest of ballads to most raucous of ensembles. The complexity of the lyrics and demands of a complex and omnipresent electronic soundscape further heighten the demands and Orchestra Victoria meet the challenge with aplomb.

The large ensemble cast are as consistently fine in their performances as the lead characters. Diction is crisp and sharp, choreography is deftly handled and stage presence is convincing. They redeploy through rapid costume changes, scenery movement, complex dance and acrobatic routines and become a part of the setting in the terrifying “Fall of Saigon” as they fight to board the last helicopter from the roof of the US Embassy. This show is commendable for the constancy of the high quality ensemble performance.

As a musical, Miss Saigon is a departure from Opera Australia’s usual offerings. It is nevertheless a luminous and brilliantly intense theatrical experience as sweeping in its scope as any grand opera and as accomplished in its presentation as their classical repertoire. It is not to be missed.

Gregory Pritchard



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