The heat is on in Sheffield!
Sheffield Theatres’ revival of Miss Saigon at the Sheffield Crucible is an extraordinary production that captivates audiences with its exceptional performances and meticulous attention to detail. Directed by Robert Hastie and Anthony Lau, this non-replica regional production brings a fresh perspective to the beloved musical, offering a thought-provoking and emotionally charged experience.
Joanna Ampil, renowned for her previous portrayals of Kim in various productions of Miss Saigon, takes on the role of The Engineer, defying expectations and delivering a performance that is both bold and nuanced. Ampil’s portrayal of The Engineer is nothing short of exceptional, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.
As the first woman to play The Engineer, Ampil’s decision to take on this role is a brave and bold move that unquestionably pays off. Her rendition of the character is a revelation, showcasing her seasoned talent and bringing a new level of depth and nuance to the role. Ampil’s portrayal of The Engineer challenges the traditional perception of the character. Rather than portraying him solely as a self-serving and manipulative opportunist, Ampil brings a more nuanced interpretation to the role. She injects the character with a level of humanity and vulnerability that invites the audience to empathise with The Engineer’s circumstances and aspirations. Ampil’s performance sparks a deeper contemplation of the character’s motivations and desires, blurring the lines between protagonist and antagonist and making us consider whether The Engineer could indeed be seen as the central figure of the narrative. It is a testament to Ampil’s immense skill and versatility as a performer that she can navigate the intricate layers of The Engineer’s personality, portraying her as a complex and multifaceted character.
Ampil’s stage presence is magnetic, drawing the audience’s attention whenever she is on stage. Her exceptional vocal range and versatility bring a unique quality to The Engineer, adding richness and complexity to the character’s musical numbers. Ampil’s rendition of the iconic songs “The American Dream” and “The Heat is on in Saigon” is a tour de force, showcasing her extraordinary vocal abilities and commanding stage presence.
In the role of Kim, Jessica Lee presents a colder and fiercer iteration of the character. Her vocals are stunning, delivering standout performances throughout the production. However, this sharper version of Kim makes it more challenging to sympathise with her eventual fate. Lee’s Kim seems angrier and stronger than the traditional portrayal, offering us a different view of the character. Ethan Le Phong brings a commanding presence to the role of Thuy, showcasing his strong voice and stage presence. Christian Maynard’s portrayal of Chris is heartfelt and emotionally resonant, highlighting the internal conflicts of the American soldier. His deeper voice delivers his dialogue and singing beautifully, particularly when singing in duets where his vocal talent is emphasised.
Shane O’Riordan, in the role of John, delivers a convincing and heartfelt portrayal of the American soldier. O’Riordan’s excellent voice resonates throughout the theatre, capturing the emotional depth and complexity of John’s character. His performances are filled with raw vulnerability, allowing the audience to connect deeply with John’s internal conflicts and personal journey. O’Riordan’s portrayal is a standout, showcasing his talent as a skilled actor and vocalist.
The rest of the cast shines brightly, bringing their own unique interpretations to their respective roles. Desmonda Cathabel and Aynrand Ferrer deliver solid performances as Mimi and Gigi, infusing their characters with depth and vulnerability. Ferrer delivers a memorable performance, particularly in the powerful song “Movie in My Mind.” Shanay Holmes brings a captivating presence to the role of Ellen, Chris’s wife, navigating the complexities of her character with skill and grace. Her voice is a standout and her acting-through-song performance was truly exceptional. Ellen holds a small role, but Holmes’ portrayal is unforgettable.
At the heart of the production is an ensemble cast that showcases immense talent and dedication. The ensemble, consisting of Adam Colbeck-Dunn, Andrew Davison, Oscar Kong, Abel Law, Lavinia Mai, Patrick Munday, Rachel Jayne Picar, Ernest Stroud, Rumi Sutton, Callum Tempest, Danny Whelan, Riley Woodford, and Iverson Yabut, contributes to the production’s energy and impact. Each member of the ensemble brings their own unique talent and presence to the stage, seamlessly integrating into the production and enhancing the storytelling. At every point, every member was giving their absolute all and their dedication and skill is worthy of note. Frequently, watching an ensemble member adds greater depth and understanding to a scene. This is achieved chiefly through some excellent choreography and movement from Jade Hackett which masterfully allows the cast to own and command the space. However, there are some moments where there is so much going on that the focal point for the audience is unclear and you cannot clearly focus on who the character speaking is or where the main action is taking place.
The creative team’s efforts are evident in every aspect of the production. Ben Stones’ set design, though minimalistic, effectively transports the audience to the war-torn streets of Vietnam. Use of a large set of steps is done effectively, though due to their size, they are not able to leave the stage at any point. A large table is used effectively for a few scenes (include a particularly stunning use of it as a boat at the end of Act 1) – I do wish there had been slightly more in terms of set/props in order to further some of the excellent work already there.
One of the standout elements of this revival is the masterful use of lighting and projection, which adds a mesmerising visual dimension to the production. Lighting designer Jessica Hung Han Yun creates stunning moments throughout the show, but it is in Act 2, during the electrifying number “What a Waste,” that the stage truly comes alive. The neon-infused streets of Bangkok are brought to vivid life through an expertly crafted combination of lighting and projection. The vibrant colors and dynamic patterns that wash over the stage create a pulsating energy that immerses the audience in the bustling atmosphere of the city. It is a visual feast for the eyes, accentuating the intensity and rawness of the performance, and leaving a lasting impression on all who witness it. The seamless integration of lighting and projection in this production is a testament to the skill and artistry of the creative team, elevating the overall theatrical experience to new heights.
Andrzej Goulding’s video design seamlessly integrates with the storytelling, creating a visual landscape that enhances the emotional impact of the production. Throughout the show, the use of projections effectively establishes placemaking, transporting the audience to various locations and providing essential context. Additionally, the projections serve as a powerful tool to convey the passage of time and emphasize the historical backdrop of the story. The attention to detail in the video design is remarkable, with projections showcasing intricate textures, vibrant colours, and evocative imagery that further immerse the audience in the world of Miss Saigon. This dynamic collaboration between lighting, set design, and video projection demonstrates the immense potential of multimedia storytelling, enhancing the theatrical experience and making the production all the more captivating and unforgettable.
The music of Miss Saigon, composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jnr and Alain Boublil, remains as captivating as ever. The orchestrations by William David Brohn beautifully complement the emotional journey of the characters, enhancing the impact of the music. The incredibly talented band perform the beautiful music, but at times, the volume of this obsecures the dialogue and lyrics of cast.
The wigs, hair, and makeup design by Sam Cox, alongside the coordination by Associate Director Lexine Lee and Associate Choreographer Nicola Mac, contribute to the overall visual aesthetic and character portrayal. A shoutout has to be made to the costumes, all of which are beautifully done and carefully selected to match the characters, including various ensemble roles/costume changes.
Sheffield Theatres’ revival of Miss Saigon pays homage to the original production while offering fresh interpretations that resonate with contemporary audiences. The removal of certain issues and the gender reversal of The Engineer add depth and thoughtfulness to the storytelling. This production is a testament to the talent and dedication of the entire cast and creative team, resulting in a must-see theatrical event. Miss Saigon at the Sheffield Crucible is an outstanding theatrical experience, filled with powerful performances, breath-taking visuals, and a deeply moving storyline. It is a production that will leave audiences emotionally stirred and reflecting on the profound impact of war and love.
Miss Saigon is playing until 19th August at the Sheffield Crucible. Tickets can be booked through the Box Office in person, over the phone on 0114 249 6000 or at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.