It’s a musical of blockbuster proportions that transports audience to the heat, heartbreak and hardships of the fall of Saigon, but for one actor it’s a return to Sunderland that will prove one of the biggest highlights on the Miss Saigon tour.
As a wannabe performer, Ryan O’Gorman visited the Sunderland Empire many times to see shows and now he gets to step into the spotlight himself when the musical heads to the city for a three-week run from October 24.
Stockton-born Ryan, who honed his craft with a scholarship at the prestigious ArtsEd School in London, has enjoyed West End roles in Rent, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera and Billy Elliot, before stepping into the battered boots of American GI John in Miss Saigon.
“John was a role I’ve wanted to play forever, but didn’t think I’d get the chance as it’s a role usually played by a black or mixed-race actor,” he explained. “He plays a really pivotal role in the story as he’s the person who introduces Chris to Kim as he’s the one who buys a Vietnamese girl to spend the night with his friend.”
Like all the actors in this piece, the true story of the last days of the Vietnam War, which informs the fictional characters who inhabit the piece, is not lost on Ryan.
“The thing about this story is that it’s not that long ago in history,” he said. “It’s set in 1975 so we’re not talking hundreds of years ago, so it is a bit like a history lesson as well as being this epic blockbuster. We do eight weeks of rehearsals and from day one we research the war, whether that be through letters that soldiers wrote home or documents, it’s all knitted through the rehearsal process.
“The big song I do is Bui-Doi at the start of Act 2 and as I’m singing, behind me on the screen there’s the real life Bui-Doi children and there is a duty of care there to tell their story with as much love, care and authenticity as we can.”
Ryan’s joined on stage in the Cameron Mackintosh production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical by Leo Tavarro Valdez as The Engineer, Sooha Kim as Kim, Ashley Gilmour as Chris, Elana Martin as Ellen, Gerald Santos as Thuy and Aicelle Santos as Gigi.
Each night they perform a dramatic score which sweeps the audience from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City, Atlanta and Bangkok with tracks such as The Movie In My Mind, I’d Give My Life For You and The American Dream. They’re emotion-fuelled songs which weave together the story of star-crossed lovers Chris and Kim who meet on the cusp of the war before being torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For three years Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he’s fathered a son.
On a tour which takes them around the UK & Ireland, Ryan says he’s looking forward to showing the international cast around his home region. “I literally can’t wait for the Sunderland leg of the tour,” he said ahead of next week’s opening night.
“I’m not a fan of the football team, but the North East is the best place in the world with the best people. The cast is made up of people from all nationalities and for most of them this will be their first time in the North East.
“I’ve been to the Empire plenty of times to see shows, but I’ve never actually performed in a show there so it will be special.”
Moving Miss Saigon is no mean feat: it’s one of the largest productions on the touring circuit and 16, 45ft-trailers will bring the award-winning epic to the region – including the mammoth three-tonne helicopter.
And it’s a show-stopping scene audiences can look forward to.
“I don’t want to give anything away but the helicopter scene is huge,” explained Ryan. “It’s me and Chris who get to fly off in it every night and it makes you feel like an action hero.”
This production opened in London in May 2014 to record-breaking advance sales and critical acclaim - and Ryan says audience can expect a West End standard on Wearside.
“We’re a big show so we tend to bed down in a city for three to eight or nine weeks, so you really get to know the cities. You miss your family and loved ones, but being such a long way from home gives you a sense of solidarity and family and we hope that shows in the relationships we depict on stage every night. This is the same show as the 2014 revival. It’s very much a West End standard show that we’ve picked up and put in Sunderland.”
•Miss Saigon is at Sunderland Empire from October 24 to November 17. Tel. 0844 871 3022.
We’ve teamed up with Sunderland Empire to give away a pair of tickets to Miss Saigon for the performance at 7.30pm on Friday, October 26.
Tickets are non-transferable and no monetary value will be given.
To be in with a chance of winning, collect the tokens in today’s and tomorrow’s paper and return the two tokens along with your contact details to Miss Saigon Competition, Katy Wheeler, Johnston Press North East, 2nd Floor, Alexander House, 1 Mandarin Road, Rainton Bridge Business Park, Houghton, Sunderland, DH4 5RA by October 24.
All data is shredded once the competition is drawn.