Petra Shepherd sees the return of this highly successful 1980s musical and finds that it is even better than the original
“Is this the greatest musical of all time”, screams the poster on the back of seemingly every London bus at the moment. Referring of course to the Cameron Mackintosh hit Miss Saigon. I’d seen the show when it first opened at The Theatre Royal Jury Lane in 1989 and was mesmerised by the story and particularly by the exuberant engineer. I’ve witnessed a few indifferent school productions since and was looking forward to another dose of Asian passion. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s epic musical has played in 300 cities in 15 different languages and won countless awards around the world.
When this latest production went on sale in September last year, it broke the record for the biggest single day of ticket sales in West End and Broadway history. That’s a big reputation and a lot of hype to live up to. However, I’m happy to say the recent show deserves it’s batch of generally glowing reviews and 25 years since Miss Saigon first opened it is still as spectacular and the melodies still as haunting.
The epic love story tells the tragic tale of young bar girl Kim, orphaned by war, who falls in love with an American GI called Chris but their lives are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.
Opera buffs will know that the musical is loosely based on that other tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian women abandoned by her American love, Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. The opening scene at Dreamland, a sleazy Vietnamese club, with lots of provocative dancing sets the scene for the rest of the show, you really felt transported to a steamy, Saigon nightclub, in the words of the opening track “The Heat is on in Saigon”.
Miss Saigon has a truly international cast with strong performances from actors from the UK, Australia, Holland, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the USA and Korea. Kwang-Ho, a major solo artist whose concerts regularly sell out arenas in his native Korea plays Thuy. Thuy, an officer in the Communist Vietnamese Government, is Kim’s cousin and betrothed and is the main villain in the show. Jon Jon Briones who plays the engineer was in the ensemble in the original London cast and has since played the role of ‘The Engineer’ in his native Philippines, London, on tour in both the UK and US and also in Germany. You can safely say he has now perfected the sleazy but likeable role and along with eighteen year old Eva Noblezada making her professional stage début as ‘Kim’ steals the show.
Eva Noblezada, originally from North Carolina where she was plucked from obscurity at a high school theatre showcase in New York has been hailed as the West End’s next big star and judging by the longest standing ovation I’ve ever en-counted, the praise is well deserved. She sung her heart out and along with the cheering, there was also a lot of sniffling to be heard in the audience. This is one show that offers a good cry, bring plenty of tissues. The second biggest cheer of the night went to the undeniably cute little boy playing Tam, her 3 year old son in the musical.
Everybody remembers the real helicopter in the original production used during scenes of the evacuation of the US Embassy in Saigon. The technical effects used for the latest helicopter are perhaps not quite as impressive but still effective especially accompanied by the deafening sound effects. 25 years on you may think that Miss Saigon has become a little dated and some of the lyrics can be a bit sentimental for some tastes. However, the new production continues to breaks hearts drawing on real emotion from both the cast and the audience. It’s well choreographed, sharper and more exciting than the original and I anticipate many a standing ovation in the months to come. Miss Saigon has well and truly roared back to the West End.
Prince Edward Theatre
Old Compton Street
Article (c)Petra Shepherd