For their 2012 season, NOVA has chosen as their opening show Miss Saigon, Boubil and Schönberg’s follow up show to their first hit show of Les Misérables. The company has created a show that is entertaining, colourful and moving.
Cze-Hui Lee gave the performance of the night. Her vocal delivery as Kim was secure throughout the show, and she used it to great effect to let us see Kim’s progression from an innocent, young girl to a woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice for her child. I was most impressed by her in ‘Thuy’s Death/You Will Not Touch My Child’ – her desperation and intensity was quite chilling and, as a result, very moving.
Stephen Coutis’ voice is clearly young but he uses it very well. He has a sound vocal production, but in the role of Chris, I felt he let himself down by not singing through the ends of some phrases. Initially, I thought that it may have been the tessitura of particular passages which caused him to stop the sound, but then he would follow up with a sustained, higher pitched melody which showed he has the ability to sing through. I would love to hear him sing ‘Why, God, Why?’ with stronger ends to his phrasing as it would take his performance of that beautiful song from good to great.
The chemistry between Lee and Coutis flourished as the night progressed. Initially, I didn’t feel Chris’ emotional attachment to Kim, so his invitation to her to live with him, seemingly, came out of nowhere. I feel that this may be a fault in the direction rather than on the part of the actors because as they began ‘Sun and Moon’, the connection between them became self-evident.
Shannon Pincombe has the perfect voice to play The Engineer, and, at times, I could have closed my eyes and told my mind I was listening to Jonathan Pryce. The vocal demands of the role are great, and Pincombe did more than just meet them. I would like to have seen more light and shade in the character earlier on in the show - more greasy charm in his moments of manipulation and a greater sense of arrogance in the opening scene. The sleazy salesman was certainly present during ‘What A Waste’ as he sweet talked the crowd, and the performance of the number was heightened by Pincombe’s comic timing.
I must commend Matt Jakowenko for making the best of a role in which he was, evidently, miscast. The role of John is written for a tenor, and appropriate vocal range is required to deliver a performance which imbues the composer’s full intentions. Jakowenko has a very pleasing voice when he is singing in his natural range, something evidenced by his fine performance of ‘Please’ with Lee. He chose a more parlando style to get through the some of the phrasing which was at the extreme of his range and it was great to see him back up his choice with clear dramatic intention.
Every time Johnathon White opened his mouth to sing, the sound that came out was just ‘wow’. His tenor has a clear, light timbre and he delivered the role of Thuy with great strength. His dramatic intention was a little unclear at times, but when it came time for him to shoot Tam, I was fully convinced of his want to pull the trigger.
Kathleen Fong as Gigi employed gorgeous facial and physical expression throughout, which made her a delight to watch, particularly during ‘Movie In My Mind’. Her phrase endings seemed to waiver in pitch a little which was a slight detractor from her performance. Emily Holland’s Ellen was, in places, underdeveloped. I feel that she would have benefited from additional direction to help present a more rounded character.
Noel Browne’s direction was rudimentary at best. While the cast did a good job, their performances could have been lifted considerably if they had had in depth character work with Browne. It was unfortunate to see some members of the principal cast going through the motions of blocking without it being backed up by dramatic volition. Similarly, to see the basic rules of good stagecraft ignored - having actors gesture with the downstage hand, bringing the lights up on a scene only to have about fifteen seconds of dead stage time, affected stage movement that was far from naturalistic – was very disappointing.
Wayne Robinson’s choreography was most appropriate for the show. In places, the ensemble was not in sync, something that may have been overcome by perhaps two more weeks of rehearsal. The orchestra were ably directed by John Clancy, and apart from the odd mispitch, they played seamlessly. Aided by the dampening effect of the pit cover, the orchestra balanced well with the principal singers and the ensemble, something that seems to happen all too rarely in music theatre. Clancy's work with the chorus was particularly evident in "The Wedding Ceremony (Dju Vui Vai)" when the female ensemble sounded sublime, and yet there were other times when the full company sound had sections of unbalanced harmony.
The set, designed by Alberto Salvato, was certainly serviceable to the requirements of the show. The backdrop for “The Morning of the Dragon” was most imposing. While stage crew worked very quickly and smoothly to get the scenes changed as efficiently as possible, I would liked to have seen less blackouts in the show in order to maintain visual and dramatic continuity. However, when it comes to Miss Saigon - it doesn’t matter if it’s going to be staged by a professional company or a community group – the first thing that comes to mind for most people is, “How are they going to do the helicopter?” In the lead up to the crucial reveal, the cast did a great job of setting up the desperation of moment. For me, the intensity the scene was broken by the appearance of this key object. The orange lights used on the helicopter brought to mind something out of this world. The body shape of the vehicle would have been better enhanced with the used of plain searchlight-type headlights to more easily bring to mind a helicopter landing in the embassy, and in doing so, not undermine the drama in the situation.
NOVA presented a show that was well received by the audience, and listening to the talk during interval and after the show, there were some very satisfied ticket holders in the house. This is a show that deserves every success as it is evident that the cast and crew have worked very hard to create for the audience a most enjoyable night at the theatre.