My family thought I was mad. My friends thought I was crazy. Even the box office at the Prince Edward Theatre looked at me with uncertainty as I arrived to pick up my second ticket for the show in under 24 hours. In fact, I similarly questioned myself as to why I was going again when there were many new pieces of theatre just waiting to be discovered. Then the helicopter roared, the overture started, and the lights came on, and I realised why I was there. It was the power of Miss Saigon.
Miss Saigon tells the story of a Vietnamese bargirl named Kim, who falls in love with an American G.I., only to be later torn apart by the devastating fall of Saigon. The musical first took the world by storm in 1989, and had been revived in May to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary.
I have yet to find a composer that can emotionally stamp their music onto my heart the way Claude-Michel Schönberg does with his beautiful score. From start to finish, my spine tingled with pure ecstasy as the music filled the theatre, complementing the emotive lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr with additional lyrics by Michael Mahler.
Still, everybody knew Schönberg’s score was stunning, and everybody knew the story was captivating. The one factor that was going to make or break this revival was the casting. Well, Sir Cameron Mackintosh certainly didn’t disappoint. I can safely say that the cast are the best element of this new production. In fact, this Miss Saigon London production has the strongest cast I’ve ever seen live on stage.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both Eva Noblezada and Tanya Manalang in the role of Kim, with the former performing twice a week as an alternate for the role. Both deliver tour de force performances and it would simply be impossible to choose a favourite. Whilst their portrayals differ, the two actresses play the part with such perfection and flawlessness that I urge everyone planning on seeing the show to book twice, simply so they can see both of these young ladies shine in the leading role.
The musical is often looked upon as quite depressing, yet Jon Jon Briones performance as the Engineer provides the audience with plenty of humour whilst still maintaining the seriousness of the story. From appearing in the original 1989 cast at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, to playing the Engineer globally and on tour, Briones has come full circle to play this legendary role in the current revival, and is a hit amongst fans and critics of the show. There will be no justice left in the world if he does not win ample awards for his tremendous performance.
Alistair Brammer and Tamsin Carroll are superb in the roles of Chris and Ellen, delivering Schönberg’s score strikingly with their vocals. Similarly, Filipino star Rachelle Ann Go is breath-taking in the small but powerful role of Gigi, making her mark with her emotional performance of the song ‘Movie In My Mind’. Hugh Maynard – whom I was lucky enough to interview a few months ago (read the exclusive interview with Hugh Maynard here) – continues to give a terrific performance as John, especially with his show-stopping performance of ‘Bui Doi’, nailing the transition between immature soldier and responsible charity worker in the first and second act.
For the last few occasions I’ve been lucky enough to watch Christian Ray Marbella’s performance as Thuy (understudying for Kwang-Ho Hong, who is sensational), and one can only hope he takes over the role permanently at some point in the future. His haunting portrayal made my spine tingle with chills, and I will certainly be returning to see him in the role again.
However, the true stars of the show are the magnificent ensemble and swings, who keep the show moving at a fast pace with their slickness and energy, and deserve a lot more credit than they receive.
This article is in no way a review. It is a plea. A plea to all people – theatregoers or not – to go and witness the sheer beauty that is Miss Saigon, currently running at The Prince Edward Theatre in London’s west end. If you haven't seen this incredible production yet, book your Miss Saigon tickets now!
Miss Saigon Review: ★★★★★
Reviewed by Jake Samson