Sunday, July 21, 2013


Tomorrow's Talent at the Civic Theatre


It's not every group that has the vision, or the resources, to stage Miss Saigon. Tomorrow's Talent, directed as a labour of love by Gavin Wilkinson, with Emma Tapley, have got things right on every level. The music, with accomplished young singers [MD Mark Sellar] and a strong pit band [including that vital saxophone] conducted by Patrick Tucker. The casting, with amazing performances from all the principals. And the staging, with Dreamland, the Embassy compound and much more wheeled seamlessly on and lit to often stunning effect. The closing of Act One is a masterpiece of stagecraft – red flags processing beyond a blue doorway, stunning acrobatics - as is the helicopter, despite the lack of airspace above the Civic stage. This is a company of 85, and the huge choruses are thrillingly effective, in Bui Doi, say, or the grim-faced masses in The Morning of the Dragon. The cynical show-stopper, American Dream, is brilliantly presented, with glitter-curtain, star-spangled blonde chorines and wholesome citizens of the Land of the Free.
Time and again I find myself mentally applauding a heart-stopping moment: those flags, that helicopter, the Chinese lantern backdrop, the lighting of the shrine scene, the bar-girls huddling in wide-screen format [for Movie in My Mind], leaving the GIs dancing with thin air, the unlikely family walking upstage to freedom, the iconic angry sun, the final tragic tableau, the fall of Saigon, with the desperate refugees waving their pathetic letters, and the ballet of the barricades allowing us to see the wire fences from every aspect.
Excellent work from every single performer – from the chorus member giving 100% to Bui Doi to the talented leads who bring maturity and experience, as well as youthful enthusiasm, to these demanding roles.
Bart Lambert is an impassioned Chris [Pinkerton for Butterfly collectors] – relaxed and natural on stage, but packing a hefty emotional punch in his Why God soliloquy.
His friend, later an impressive President of the charitable foundation, is Ollie Fox. Jessica Moore is stunning as Gigi, the seen-it-all stripper who is the original Miss Saigon, and James Murphy is Kim's blinkered betrothed, making a great impact as the ghostly guilt-figure in Act II.
What a luxury to be able to double-cast so many of the characters – and a testament to the ability of the company's aspiring actors. I was privileged to see both casts.
In the plum role of The Engineer, Andrew Steel makes the most of this sleazy survivor, who speaks Uncle Ho but thinks Uncle Sam, making him bitter and manipulative, and giving a goose-bumps virtuoso performance of American Dream. Joshua Butcher skilfully uses his voice and his body language to suggest the half-French Vietnamese, and seems a little more vulnerable, and more likeable. Every bit as effective in the big number, too.
Kim, the innocent victim of war, is superbly sung by Alice Masters, a totally convincing 17-year-old who is also able to nail the considerable emotional depth of the character. Laura Messin too – her insight into the tragic world of the "new princess" was incredible, hurt and angry at events beyond her control.
Ellen, Chris's American wife, is wonderfully done by Zoe Rogers – her vocal ability outstanding even in this exalted company – sharing the role with the excellent Emma Bennett, who successfully suggests the conflicting emotions in this tragic triangle.
In a tearful final curtain, those actors leaving for some of the country's leading drama schools were urged to return for a tenth anniversary reunion production. Tiny Tam [beautifully disciplined work from Jonah Miller/Joseph Papalie] would be old enough to take a lead, then. And what of those determined, ambitious drama students ? Will they be on a cruise ship in the Far East, or like Wilkinson, working in the war-torn West End ? Watch this space.

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