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Miss Saigon: A refreshing take on a timeless story

Fodderreviews

I had the opportunity to go see Miss Saigon on opening night. There was a flashy red carpet, and everyone was dressed to the nines, and there I was — an Asian international student all on my own, ready for whatever would come my way. I was, admittedly, apprehensive. Miss Saigon is no stranger to controversy, and from my previous research, it receives mixed opinions across the board.

And I can say, it did not disappoint. 

Miss Saigon is about love in a time of war, between a Vietnamese woman, Kim, and an American soldier, Chris, set during the Vietnam War. From a purely technical standpoint, this musical is a marvel to behold. The set design is intricate and eye-catching and the vocals effortlessly tugged at the heartstrings. The story is paced well, and there wasn’t a point where I thought it dragged on too long. Abigail Adriano as Kim croons to the audience, her voice soulful. There’s no doubt that these performers are talented and that the crew put immense amounts of effort into this production.

But what I really want to focus on are the narrative changes and how they impacted me, both personally and at a wider scale. Specifically, the character of the Engineer. The Engineer — the proprietor of the nightclub our protagonist is hired to work at — is explicitly queer. He is flamboyant, extravagant and deeply, deeply emotional. Almost immediately, it adds a layer to his character’s story that wasn’t present in previous iterations of the musical. It becomes less about exploitation and more about survival. Of getting out there and getting your hands dirty if it means securing a future and a chance at your dream. The Engineer isn’t someone who is all about making a quick buck (although that is part of him, too) but is also someone who has their own aspirations in life. 

The same process happens with Chris’ American wife, Ellen. With the addition of a solo song sung by her, she transforms into a real person in the audience’s eyes—not just someone who is there to move the plot along. And this makes a crucial difference in the viewing experience. If these characters hadn’t been fleshed out the way they were, the production would have been a half-hearted attempt at speaking to themes of survival, happiness and loss. 

There’s a delicacy with which this production is handled. Multiple people with Vietnamese heritage were at the forefront of developing the musical and the story remains sensitively and compassionately told. 

On a more personal note, being Asian and seeing so much representation was a balm to my soul. Seeing all these people on stage, dancing and singing, and telling stories — and they all looked like me — brought a sense of empowerment to me that I didn’t think I would get. And why I think it works so well is because they’re all proper people in the story. These are real people with real motivations, not caricatures of what people think Asian people are like. 

It's a tale of surviving in a world which is built to go against you, and the power of hope in spite of loss.

Miss Saigon played at Her Majesty’s Theatre from October 29th to December 16th.

 
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