I love theatre!
I love drama, comedy, dance and musicals. Theatres that are rapidly filling up for a performance of a musical are entrancing. The audience, waiting with mounting anticipation for the curtain to rise and the music to begin!
I have always loved musicals. How well I know the music from: Oklahoma, Sound of Music, Phantom of the Opera, Half A Sixpence, Cats, Les Miserable! To name but a few! I was recently told by Tammy Bonell Garner that I drove from Johannesburg to Durban with Gaby Lomberg and herself to see March of the Falsettos. Apparently, we played Les Miserables and sang the whole way. My fall has wiped that particular memory clean, but it explains why I know every single word of that production. After having my Cochlear Implants, I watched the film of Les Miserables. The song, On My Own, reduced me to tears. How wonderful it is to be able to enjoy music once more!
Recently whilst in England, my best friend, B told me that we were going to see Miss Saigon. How utterly marvellous to see a Cameron Mackintosh musical! Only I didn’t know the music at all. I was puzzled by this. Why didn’t I know that musical, I wondered? I knew Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Miserables. Why not Miss Saigon? I discovered it had opened on the 30th September 1989. I had my fall and became deaf in December 1989.
That explained it.
In the afternoon, B sat down next to me, her iPad in hand.
“I wanted to make your Miss Saigon experience really special, so I emailed Cameron Mackintosh and…”
“You emailed WHO?” I exclaimed in this over loud, disbelieving voice.
“Well, Cameron Mackintosh Productions. I wrote this:”
I am taking my best friend, Gaynor Young, to your production of Miss Saigon at the Theatre Royal in Norwich on Monday, 20th August.
She is visiting the U.K. from South Africa. Gaynor was a professional actress. She had a tragic accident whilst performing the lead role of Camelot at the State Theatre, Pretoria in South Africa. You can learn more about her at www.earearblog.com/about and via this YouTube link https://youtu.be/rL-ZfEZsbtc
I wonder if you might be able to do anything that would make Gaynor’s Miss Saigon experience just a little more special.
Thanks, in anticipation
And, B got this response:
Thank you for getting in touch with us about Gaynor. What an incredible woman!
We’d love to invite you both to a back stage tour of the show after the performance if that is of interest? When convenient please feel free to get in touch with our company manager, and he will provide more details.
On the 20th August, the Theatre Royal, Norwich was packed and there was an excited buzz of anticipation amongst the audience. A sense of people knowing that they were in for something special; a treat was in store. The feeling seemed to hover in the air, simmering and cracking amongst us as we found our seats. The curtain went up, the simmering and cracklings ignited and what an incredible production flamed before us.
Miss Saigon is a moving tale of love in a war ravaged country.
At the centre is the violent impact of two differing cultures. There is the West’s uncouth captivation with the East. The sense that the East thinks and feels differently to ‘us’. The West often disregards Eastern beliefs and is ignorant of it’s culture. This exotic racism is a popular theme in musicals. Apparently a contemporary playwright announced in despair: “Theatre in the West End is pathetic as far as politics goes. The only thing you can see are musicals!”
Yes, a lot of theatre in the West End comprises of musicals but, as Miss Saigon illustrates, musicals are often extremely political! It is just they have their own way of highlighting political issues. Think of: Les Miserables, Cabaret, Sound of Music, The King and I, West Side Story. All of these productions are political. It is just that musicals have you tapping your feet as it creatively pushes a political truth home. Miss Saigon speaks of facts that are as present today as they have always been. Loss, prejudice, love, bullying, racism are all themes that strike a resounding note in this musical.
Our eyes, brains and spirits feasted on what was displayed onstage that night.
I remembered my sister, Liz, telling me about her experience of seeing Miss Saigon in London during the 90’s. She and her friend, Julie, had set off for the theatre. They were running late and Julie said: “I know I’m not meant to go down this street, but it will get us there so much quicker.”
No sooner had she began shooting down a one way street, than she heard the police siren behind them.
“Officer,” she said, bursting into tears, “I am so sorry. My friend and I have just finished work and we’re late for Miss Saigon. I am so frightened we will miss it. That was why we turned down this road.”
“It’s a wonderful show,” the policeman said. “Follow me, I’ll get you there in time.”
On went his siren and he flew ahead with Julie and Liz close behind. Arriving there, he shouted:
“Enjoy the show!” and disappeared.
The drama continued for Liz that night! Towards the end of the first half, there is an actual helicopter that literally lands onstage to fly the American soldiers out of Vietnam. Except, during Liz’s helicopter’s landing, there was a massive explosion and the helicopter toppled onto it’s side in a tangled heap. The big iron safety curtain came down on a horrified audience. The show came to an unprecedented, abrupt halt. The audience were all given tickets to see the show on another night. A few nights later, Liz said the helicopter landed and took off beautifully! On our night though, there was no actual helicopter. The stage must be too small, I thought. They had a wonderful 3D projection of a helicopter that was extremely vivid and real.
After the standing ovation, B and I made our way backstage. I was hoping that all the performers had already left. I didn’t want to be a ‘backstage gawker’. I needn’t have worried. I had forgotten the backstage rush to leave and relax with friends in the bar. Waiting to meet us was the assistant production manager, Sasha, and her husband, James, the stage manager. We told them how incredibly moving we had found the show. They apologised for not having the helicopter land onstage. James explained, as I had guessed, that the area backstage was too small to for the ‘usual’ helicopter. We were amazed to learn that on tour it took nineteen lorries to move the sets of Miss Saigon. So far, he had stage managed four hundred and eighty eight shows!
Chatting to James about coming from South Africa, he mentioned that five years ago, he had assisted Artscape in Cape Town on Sound of Music. He fell totally in love with the place and recently took his new wife, Sasha, there on honeymoon.
Lying in bed that night, I pondered the fact that politics rear their head in every walk of life….family arguments, sports fields, schools, acting, dance and musicals! In his productions political statements give added depth to Cameron Mackintosh’s wonderful creations. By bringing these musicals to life, Cameron Mackintosh, not only gives huge pleasure to millions of people but political insight rains down on everyone.
As my eyes closed, I thought: I must get the CD of Miss Saigon. I want to listen to it again and again. Like Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, I want to know that music. I want to be able to sing it to myself as I go about my day.
I want it in me.
Miss Saigon photographs courtesy of Cameron Mackintosh Productions