Invariably, this show is identified as the one with the helicopter . Just in case anyone was in any doubt about this, the lights go down to the sound of a helicopter swooping overhead. I had seen the show once before, around ten years ago, and had been hugely impressed. I arrived with expectations high.
Although the story is a reworking of the classic Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly”, the modernised narrative is gritty. We are taken through the sex bars of Saigon patronised by off- duty GI’s where bar owner, and pimp in chief The Engineer, marvellously played by Red Concepcion, plies his trade. Here, whore Kim falls in love with client GI Chris. They are separated by the evacuation, but Kim has a son by Chris. Post war, Chris returns to Saigon with his new wife Ellen, is briefly reunited with Kim and his son, but then faces a climactic ending as Kim commits suicide to attempt to force him to take their son back to the United States. It is an adult show, with adult themes, both of which contribute to a surprisingly large number of empty seats on a Friday night. In the summer, it is family shows sell.
Four things stand out for me about this production. The singing is excellent, individually, and ensemble. The all -male chorus for “Bui Don” at the start of the second half is moving and sublime. The music is superbly arranged and played by conductor James Mckeon. Most outstanding of all is the lighting by Bruno Poet. It is an object lesson, admittedly with a bucket load of cash, of what can be achieved with lights. I have never seen a better lit show. Finally, the choreography is beautiful. I do not refer only to the big production numbers, but also the graceful movement of all cast members.
The magnificent sets, the music, lighting, singing and movement were sumptuous. On second viewing, the introduction of a cute kid ( around three years old?) as Kim and Chris’s son towards the end feels a little contrived, and the part of Ellen, Chris’s new wife, is underwritten and a little awkward. However overall this is a satisfying big production show where the set pieces impress, the songs stir, and the solo’s draw tears from the audience. Well worth a visit.