>miss saigon

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 1 aug 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


"I think if someone is going to come into the show and look at it very black and white, you are going to miss the whole point of the show. It's a love story. The war is the background." Deedee Lynn Magno, lead actress MISS SAIGON.

There's really nothing more you can say about the mixed politics of MISS SAIGON. How it perpetrates the anachronistic stereotype of the East as the weaker feminine essence waiting for the masculine western power to rescue her from her life, yes we all heard it before. Edward Said has said it all for you and I rolling our eyes at the supposedly Asian music playing on cue whenever Miss Saigon, Kim, steps on stage.

But what you can talk about is MISS SAIGON at Kallang Theatre.

With its evocative panels of rice paper blinds, the impressive sets were clearly the work of the formidable company that brought us Singapore's first few musicals: LES MISERABLES, CATS AND PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. From the enormous Ho Chi Minh statue flanked by equally huge posters of more Uncle Ho portraits to the elaborate setup of an authentic mini-Thai go-go bar street, the sets were hauntingly poignant and obviously labours of expensive love. Remember the boat that sails across the Kallang Theatre floor in the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA? Well MISS SAIGON has its own helicopter to boot and it was definitely a sight to behold (and to hear)!

>>‘The love between Kim and Tam, the unconditional love of a mother, carried the entire night on its weary back.'

Lead Deedee Lynn Magno as Miss Saigon and Leo Tavarro Valdez as the engineer stole most of the limelight with their touchingly tragic portrayal of ordinary folks caught in a nation's upheaval. As the manipulative pimp with a heart, Leo made all the comic elements in his character count and the audience loved him for it. Deedee was wonderfully multi-layered as her Miss Saigon progressed through the years - from the countryside ingenue to the hardened Mother Courage, she played her roles with confidence and quiet intensity.

Cliffton Hall as Chris, however, didn't have as much luck, as his uneven performance carried him on an emotional high one moment and in the next moment his somewhat contrived swagger brought on the déjà vu of a bad daytime soap. While he certainly looked the part of Chris, there were moments where his emotional grasp of his character could have done with more work.

As a result, the love story between Kim and Chris was lacking in bite and depth. Yes they held hands, they talked about the sun and moon and they made love but they didn't really seem all that in love with each other. Juxtaposed with Kim's love for her child, it seemed like teenage puppy love - which might be the point to heighten the sense of pathos, except it wasn't consistent with the omnipotent war in the background and the characterisation of both Kim and Chris.

At the same time, unlike the rest of Cameron Mackintosh's musicals - I can still hum the tunes from LES MISERABLES and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA after a few years but ask me to sing any tunes from MISS SAIGON after a few days and I frankly cannot remember any. Without any rousing signature anthem, it took the music out of the musical.

Thus as the emotional core of the musical, the love between Kim and Tam, the unconditional love of a mother, carried the entire night on its weary back. As Kim sang "I'd give my life for you", the cliches and trite platitudes faded away and the strong desperate love of a mother rang clear and loud in the night. While Tam didn't as much as utter one word, the image of Kim serenading his unknowing son was heart wrenching.

It's a love story all right - have no doubts about it. It's the love between a young mother learning how to love and a child carrying the burden of his parents' guilt and hopes. As the songs come to an end and the lights start to fade, it won't be the ao dai or the giant Ho Chi Minh statue (okie maybe that might stick…) you remember.

It is the face of a mother, fierce with determination and sorrow, that will stay with you.