CAROLINE CULOT Norwich Theatre Royal
> Norwich Theatre Royal
It was a rollercoaster ride all the way last night when Norwich was transported to Saigon and the Vietnam War for this emotion-charged tragedy.
And at the end of it, after being taken on this very special ride, you were left feeling emotionally exhausted – but wanting to do it all over again.
Yes, this hit musical, bringing not just a slice but a whopping great chunk of the West End right here to Norwich, is quite simply a theatrical experience not to be missed.
It sets an unbelievably high benchmark for what can be achieved on a small stage with a cast who really know how to pull at every heart-string, leaving you with very little left to give in emotion when the final curtain falls, because you have shared so much with them.
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Miss Saigon tells a simple tale – girl meets boy who get parted only to be reunited at the end in the cruellest way possible. But of course, we all know that these tales of high drama, passion and broken hearts are the best.
Jennifer Hubilla as the central character Kim put every shred of feeling into every word sung so beautifully last night. She may look like a fragile doll but how she matures right in front of your eyes as her character goes from the vulnerable young teenager to a mother fighting for her young child.
Hubilla has a pure voice; when she sings, she makes the words almost dance but as the story progresses, she is forced at times to become ugly and then her voice changes. I thought she was absolutely incredible in the role, utterly believable.
She is aided by Steven Houghton as her GI lover Chris, and in the first few scenes there is no let up on emotion as we are shown their love.
Hubilla and Houghton are so convincing, so utterly passionate, you feel at times almost embarrassed to be in the audience watching them. He is a giant compared to her tiny frame but they come together in their singing beautifully.
Houghton, whom Norfolk theatre-goers will know from his roles here in Grease and Dick Whittington, makes a strong, loving Chris, fiercely protective of Kim and showing some moving singing skills throughout.
But who can ever forget the breathtaking performance by “the Engineer”, Jon Jon Briones, who in a way is the symbol of Vietnam himself. From the beginning, like Joel Grey in Cabaret, he introduces the audience to “Dreamland” – which is of course his sleazy brothel attracting the American soldiers.
Later he almost gets killed but then reinvents himself in Bangkok, and in the second half of the show, gives a fantastic performance in the number American Dream. Briones brings a whole range of emotions to this part – which is at times funny, at others savage – and is just compelling to watch.
But everyone in this show is first class and to match them is an incredibly versatile set and some innovative use of technical imagery.
From the moment the curtain goes up, you feel you have been transported to Saigon, you feel the heat, the fear and the scenes of the evacuation of the American embassy are unbelievable.
I won't give away too much but when the helicopter comes flying over, believe me, you duck.
It's a real feather in the cap of the Theatre Royal to secure this show. It's a simple story but when love, revenge and jealousy forms the main plot, the end result, as with Madame Butterly and Romeo and Juliet, is truly explosive.
Miss Saigon is right up there with them but are you brave enough not to cry at the end?
t For further details visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.