The revival of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre is one of the theatrical events of the year. Written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (the team behind Les Miserables), I’ve been longing to see it for years. The original production of 25 years ago, complete with real helicopter, is legendary; Laurence Connor’s new production is epic and impressive, but didn’t touch me the way that Les Miserables did (and continues to do).
Inspired by the opera Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon is set towards the end of the Vietnam War and tells the story of Chris, an American marine, and a Saigon prostitute, Kim. The pair are separated by the American evacuation of Saigon, and do not meet again until several years later, by which time both their lives have changed considerably.
I didn’t know the story very well, and I actually found the production rather confusing. The famous evacuation scene with the helicopter is shown as a flashback towards the end of the show, possibly for technological reasons, but during the first half I was bewildered by the then-unexplained jump in time. Having said that, the set was magnificent and the individual scenes very well staged.
Much has been said about Eva Noblezada as Kim, and I can only add my praise to her wonderful performance. I thought she had a stunning voice and really evoked the character’s innocence and pain. Alistair Brammer was also very good as Chris, her lover, and Kwang-Ho-Hong also gave a strong performance as Kim’s once-promised husband. Special mention, however, must go to Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer. Famously played by Jonathan Pryce in the original production, the Engineer is a morally ambiguous, murky character who dreams of escaping to capitalist America. The charismatic Briones plays him as a sleazy fantasist; he steals every scene he is in, a highlight being his big number “The American Dream”. The character of the Engineer also adds a more interesting edge to the story, a satirical foil to the straightforward sentimental love story, a critique on the faults of communism and capitalism.
I enjoyed the music, but I don’t feel any of the songs in Miss Saigon come close to those in Les Miserables. Though wonderfully staged, acted and sung, the show didn’t move me as much as I had hoped. However, it was a memorable evening, and this musical is a must see for fans of the genre.