Hankies at the ready – Miss Saigon is heading to Sunderland and if it doesn’t move you to tears, nothing will.
One of the largest productions on the touring circuit, 16, 45ft-trailers will bring Cameron Mackintosh’s award-winning epic to the region – including the show stopping three-tonne helicopter.
It will be one of the biggest shows to ever be held at the Empire and features an international cast from 10 different nations who bring to life the haunting love story, set amidst the last days of the Vietnam War, of a teenage girl named Kim who falls for an American GI, Chris, only to be torn away from him by the fall of Saigon.
Donning the uniform of Chris is Ashley Gilmour, who featured in the ensemble of the original revival cast in the West End.
Now he’s taken on the leading man role and he says he’s honoured to play his part in one of musical theatre’s most moving stories.
“I didn’t get to cover Chris when I first auditioned, I was part of the ensemble. So to get Chris for the tour is amazing,” he said. “It’s so rewarding to be in a show whose story has the power to affect an audience, and really move them, it’s a special feeling.”
Ashley says those who saw the revival in London, can also expect a West End quality on tour.
“The show we did in the West End was taken to Broadway and improved with bits added, and that’s the show we’re touring,” he explained.
“With a lot of musicals that go on the road you get the condensed version, but this is the full show. It’s kept every element, the lighting and sound quality.”
With its focus on a war that claimed the lives of millions, it’s a musical with a deep meaning and Ashley says the importance of the story is not lost on the actors.
“Miss Saigon is relevant to what’s happening in the world today but it’s always relevant, unfortunately,” he said. “It’s an important story to tell. Because of that it means you have to give it your all, you can’t just come in and say you’re tired and not give 100%.
“You have to give 100% because this is a story that happened to people, so it’s important you tell it with truth and integrity. People who fought in the war have seen the show and they’ve thanked the show for telling the story.”
Bringing moments of light relief amongst the devastation is the love-to-hate character of The Engineer, played with relish by Red Concepción. Like many in the show, Red hails from the Philippines and winning the role has brought him to the UK for the first time.
“There are 10 different nationalities on the tour so it’s like a United Nations conference every day,” he said.
“ I think people from South East Asia are particularly drawn to this musical, because they can empathise and sympathise as it’s all our stories.
“The auditions are huge in The Philippines, thousands of people go along.”
And recalling his own audition, he said: “I sang Bui Doi and really went for it. I wasn’t expecting to get the part of The Engineer at all, but I would have played a tree if it meant I got to be in the show.”
A charismatic nightclub owner who exploits Kim’s innocence for his own gain, it’s The Engineer who ends up bringing the star-crossed lovers together.
Speaking about the character’s magnetism, he said: “I always say The Engineer is like a cockroach, because like a cockroach, he always survives.
“He will always find a way to come out on top, no matter who he has to manipulate to do it. But he’s also very charismatic. His survival skills are less than savoury, but people seem to love him, because he uses that charm.
“It’s a fine line to tread when you play him, because you don’t want to be too lovable, but you don’t want people to hate you.”
Speaking about the music in the show, by Boublil and Schönberg, which includes The Movie in My Mind and The American Dream, he said: “I think it’s so popular because of the music, it has some of the most beautiful music ever written for a musical. But also because of the subject matter.
“It’s very timely, because people need to be reminded of the horrors of war and The Engineer is very much a product of war.
“We are living in tumultuous times in the world’s history, so it’s important to be reminded of the consequences of war. But it’s also the love story which people are drawn to. There’s so much raw truth in the show.
“Yes, it’s spectacular and has all the Broadway level trappings of theatre, but at its heart is love and emotion and people trying to survive.”
•Miss Saigon is at Sunderland Empire from October 24-November 17. Tickets: 0844 871 3022.