The male chorus with Tim Gesell out front as ‘John’ deliver the emotional Bui-Doi message about the orphan kids left behind after the Vietnam War. Photo by Geoff Glare.

Mark Ebit in the role of the Vietnamese officer Thuy has a key role to play in Wonthaggi’s Miss Saigon. Photo by Geoff Glare.

Jaedon Kingdon, who shares the role of young Tan in Wonthaggi’s production of Miss Saigon, which opened last weekend, helps WTG President Peter Hanley draw the competition winners at last Saturday night’s sponsors’ night. m402217

IT MIGHT have been a tropical rain storm, complete with thunder claps and lightning, which struck the venue for the local production of Miss Saigon last Sunday, just as ‘Ellen’ (Emma Volard) was launching into her big number, ‘Now That I’ve Seen Her’.
But it was Wonthaggi, in May, in the grips of its first pre-winter blast from the Antarctic.
All-the-same, though, it added to the atmosphere of this already action-packed musical which played for the first time at the Wonthaggi Arts Centre over the weekend.
Both Saturday night’s opening night and the Sunday matinee were sell-outs, or close to it, and audiences filed out singing the praises of the production, humming a few tunes and lamenting the tragedy of the Vietnam War.
Quite a few also admitted to being carried away by the emotion associated with the story of Miss Saigon; the love, the loss and the personal tragedy highlighted to harmonious and graphic effect in the a cappella number, Bui-Doi, which opens the second act.
It was a production of epic proportions which the local theatre group nailed in every detail… except for the fact that they weren’t able to land an iconic ‘Huey’ helicopter in the auditorium.
They covered that, during the evacuation of Saigon, with a sound and light show that left only the helicopter to the imagination.
In short, it’s a show not to be missed.
The lead actors/singers in the production are first class.
You would not find a better person to play the lead role of Kim, in professional or amateur theatre, than Alliza Miel of Korumburra, who was stepping up to her first senior role after starring in several productions at Mary MacKillop College in Leongatha.
Her voice soared to the dramatic heights anticipated by Claude-Michel Schonberg, who also wrote the music for Les Miserables, and as a 19 year old of Filipino heritage, she was perfectly cast as the love-struck Vietnamese peasant girl.
She had the audience with her all the way, from her first duet with club girl, Gigi, played by another newcomer to WTG, Maricel Gardiner, in the haunting ballad, ‘The Movie In My Mind’, surely the companion piece of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Mis.
Playing opposite her was the leading man in the past two Wonthaggi Theatrical Group musicals, Pippin and Evita, Corey Green, once again ideally cast in the role of the US Marine, Chris.
With both Alliza and Emma, he featured in several glorious duets which would be worth the price of admission on their own.
But the tour de force performance of the production was without doubt provided by Jay Nelson in the enormously challenging role of The Engineer, a French-Vietnamese sex club owner who is wheeling, dealing and scheming his way to America.
He features in almost every scene, connecting the dots in the story with a grab bag of highly entertaining responses while also knocking two set-piece numbers out of the park, ‘If You Want To Die In Bed’ in Act 1 and a highlight of the show ‘The American Dream’ near the end. Great work!
The other principals were of a similar high standard; Tim Gesell as John the Vietnam Veteran who tries to put things right, Maricel Gardiner as ‘Miss Saigon’ the lead club girl and Mark Ebit, a physiotherapist at Rose Lodge in Wonthaggi having his first experience in a musical as Thuy, the Vietnamese officer and would-be suitor for Kim.
His too is a vitally important role and his work opposite both Kim and Chris is convincing.
The highlight of Tim’s performance is a wonderful rendition of the emotion-charged Bui-Doi.
Several ensemble members stepped up with solo pieces throughout the production, in a generally strong contribution by the cast, indicating that there’s a wealth of talent just below the surface
at WTG.
Backing the performers is a big, big group of backstage and production people led by stage manager Alex Jackson and production manager Bernie Sweeney; building then moving sets, making and then repairing costumes, designing and operating lighting, and adding the elements of props, hair, make-up, projections by Rex Kane-Hart, sound by Brett van Hoorn, and more too numerous to mention.
Director Wayne Moloney, musical director Kirk Skinner, choreographer Anthea Donohue and artistic director Colin Mitchell all put in a power of work and were delighted with the outcome at the weekend.
It’s local people entertaining local people to stunning effect right here in Wonthaggi again with Miss Saigon and they certainly deserve your support at what will be a highly entertaining production.
Miss Saigon continues from Thursday this week, through until Sunday, June 11 but book early to avoid disappointment at www.wtg.org.au