Printable CopyMISS SAIGON
The Metropolitan Musical Theatre Company of SA Inc (aka “The Met”)
The Arts Theatre
Until 18 May 2019

Review by Anthony Vawser

Whichever lens one may choose to view it through, “Miss Saigon” is a broadly sketched romantic melodrama in the European operatic tradition and, as such, is certainly not representative of modern political correctness. But for audiences who can accept their musical entertainment on such terms – as this reviewer is more than happy to do when the show is of a quality to justify it – The Met’s production is a real winner: grand, sweeping, engrossing, passionate, funny, and thrilling.

Drawing inspiration from “Madam Butterfly” for their plot and characters, but transposing them to the Vietnam War, the writers/composers behind “Les Mis” deliver a gorgeous brand of musical and dramatic craftsmanship in “Miss Saigon”, while providing rich opportunities as well as formidable challenges for any and all non-professional theatre groups looking to stage it: a cross-cultural ensemble of characters, performing songs that require a high level of vocal ability, and depicting a world that at times might seem more suited for dramatization in a big-budget Hollywood spectacular.

Four in seven of the show’s named lead/supporting characters are of Asian heritage, but not only has The Met cast all of these roles appropriately with performers of colour, they are also performers of tremendous talent. Elena Amano, playing Kim, is making her theatre debut, but it rarely shows, and her experience as a vocalist is clear in every one of her scenes. Also venturing into theatre for the first time here is Maria Gabriela Maglahus, a dancer of stunning agility and energy who makes an indelible emotional impact in the small role of Gigi.

Omkar Nagesh is well-known to Adelaide theatre-goers and has long been widely admired as a gifted, versatile, and charismatic stage presence; eight years after featuring in a previous production (unseen by this reviewer), his return to the plum role of the Engineer – essentially a seamier version of Fagin from “Oliver!” – is an exhilarating triumph. Shane Huang likewise brings tremendous expression and gusto to the crucial part of Thuy.

Tom Dubois cuts a striking figure as John, whom he manages to convincingly portray as a military serviceman with both compassion and a conscience. Jared Frost is an impressively polished performer in the role of Chris, though his distinctively well-trained classical vocal style can at times threaten to feel like an incongruous fit with his American GI character of Chris. Jemma McCulloch possesses a stunning voice, and makes her role of Ellen into something far more interesting and satisfying than the routine, unsympathetic stereotype that it could have been.

Ensemble work is generally of a high standard, reliably bringing crucial vigour and texture to scenes where they are needed. Selena Britz choreographs with a deft balance between gaudiness and naturalism, while Jillian Gulliver conducts an accomplished fifteen-piece orchestra that provides this show with the wide range of musical colours and tones encompassed in the score.

Ben Saunders directs this lengthy show with a keen sense of pacing, and his set/scenic designs, which at first glance might seem jarringly minimalist and impressionistic, soon come to work very well in the overall visual scheme. Leonie Osborn and Carmel Vistoli have co-ordinated an eye-catching array of costumes, and Jason Groves’ lighting is another noteworthy technical/artistic contribution.

If you want to witness how much can be accomplished on an Adelaide amateur stage from a company armed with the necessary reserves of talent and resourcefulness, this is absolutely the show to see.