Staging the legendary Miss Saigon in Bangkok has always been on Takonkiet Viravan's mind since he saw the show, which went on to become one of the biggest musical hits of all time, for the first time in London.
Napat Injaiuea will make you believe that he’s Chris, who deeply loves and wants to protect Kim played by Kulkornpat Phothongnak.
"A few months after its opening in West End in 1989, I went to see Miss Saigon," he recalled. "Its moving story, mesmerising music, and spectacular production completely blew me away and I couldn't sleep after watching the show that Friday night. The next day I found myself queueing up to get a cancelled ticket for the matinee, and luckily I got to see the show again".
And now the show's iconic helicopter is all set to land at Muang Thai Rachadalai Theatre for tomorrow's night premier of the Thai version of Miss Saigon.
The musical left such a strong impression on the Thai impresario that, afterwards, when people asked which show they should see when in London and New York, he would always recommend Miss Saigon. Today it's no longer a West End and Broadway attraction but Miss Saigon is licensed by Music Theatre International (MTI), who represents the original producer, Cameron Mackintosh.
Thai theatre company Scenario acquired the rights to do the local edition, which is not a reproduction as Takonkiet could adapt the musical while keeping the essence of the tragic love story between Kim, a Vietnamese bar girl, and Chris, an American GI.
The protagonists are torn apart as Chris leaves Saigon without knowing of her pregnancy and later marries another women in the US. Kim waits for him to come back to be with her and their son but is heart-broken upon learning about his new life when she meets his American wife.
"Watching Miss Saigon again and again, I pick up different aspects. The first time I saw the musical, I was touched by the love story set amid the Vietnam War. Another time, I was struck by the patriotism reflected in the story," he said. "Because Vietnam is close to Thailand, Thais can relate to Miss Saigon, whose round characters are like real human being with both good and bad sides in one person. Understanding their situation, it moves you to think what you would do if you were in their shoes."
The local production promises to be an impressive spectacle in delivering the melodrama. The adaptation include the Thai score, the orchestration, new blocking and choreography, as well as sets that have been designed to achieve the same feel as the original show.
Theatre wizard, Takonkiet Viravan.
The love scenes have been adjusted to suit the Thai culture and there's not as much kissing on stage as in the Western production. Gimmicks have also been added to make it more entertaining for the Thai crowd.
While allowing the freedom to do the adaptation, Cameron Mackintosh ensures the quality of the Thai production, starting right from the casting, which picked Napat "Gun" Injaiuea, The Star 6 champion, as the male lead.
After starring in Si Phaen Din: The Musical as Khun Prem, Napat is challenged by a role of an American soldier that contrasts with his handsome Thai look and bronze complexion.
''The same thing happened to Mos (Patiparn Pataweekarn) when he was cast as Shariff, a Middle-Eastern character, in Fah Jarod Sai [another musical produced by his company]. At first people couldn't believe that Mos could play this character but even Sopak Suwan (Fah Jarod Sai's author) saw Shariff within Mos,'' noted Takonkiet. ''Gun [Napat] will make you believe that he's Chris as it shows in his stage presence and energy. His eyes and facial expressions deeply express how much he loves Kim with all his heart. He's definitely the right man for this love story.''
Judgement and comparison shouldn't be made before seeing actors perform their roles, added the theatre wizard, and it would be better if the audience comes to enjoy the show with an open mind.
Accordingly, while Lea Salonga set the bar high in her original portrayal of Kim, Thai audience will come to see how Kulkornpat Phothongnak and Kanda Withayanuphabyuenyong fare in the lead role.
Both actresses, the double cast who will take turn playing Kim, boast a beautiful voice: Kulkornpat is a fine arts graduate majoring in voice while Kanda was formerly a singer with the CU Band of Chulalongkorn University.
''We wanted fresh faces to play the young and naïve Kim, which is a demanding role especially for the vocal performance. The double-casting gives these two young actresses opportunities to develop their potential, and they can fulfill the role in their own special way,'' said the executive producer.
The cast also include pop singers: Ben-Chalatit; Q the lead singer of Flure, and New-Napassorn, who bring their vocal prowess to the musical. Takonkiet is confident that he has got the right combination of actors and other elements for an impressive show.
''From watching Miss Saigon many times and my own life experience, the timing is right for me to bring this musical to Thai theatre-goers,'' he said. Adapted to suit the Thai taste, it should make for an entertaining treat.''
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- Writer: Kanokporn Chanasongkram