REVIEW: What's So Great About Miss Saigon?
| By Liz Dyer
This week, I had another opportunity to see the award-winning new production of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre, and I was reminded once again why I fell in love with it the first time (and the second time). It would be far, far quicker to explain what’s not great about it… but a review that just says ‘nothing’ wouldn’t make for very interesting reading. So let’s give this a go!
First, the cast. There isn’t a single weak link in the show’s incredible line-up of talent. They’re led by teenager Eva Noblezada, who gives a mind-blowing performance as Kim, the young Vietnamese girl who falls for an American GI in the days leading up to the fall of Saigon. She’s joined by the brilliant Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer, a pimp and hustler determined to make it to the USA, and prepared to do whatever he needs to do to get there. Briones has played this role many times, and is clearly having the time of his life; he certainly has the audience eating out of his hand within minutes. Alistair Brammer, Tamsin Carroll, Ethan Le Phong (currently replacing Kwang-Ho Hong as Thuy until 16th March) and Rachelle Ann Go also give stand-out performances, as did Callum Francis, understudy to Hugh Maynard on this occasion.
Next, the music, which is nothing short of spine-tingling. From the desperation of 'Movie In My Mind' to the almost frantic joy of 'Last Night Of The World', the raw emotion of 'I Still Believe' to the utter futility of 'The American Dream', it’s all completely perfect. Even the blatant emotional manipulation in 'Bui Doi', which is accompanied by a Comic Relief-esque slide show of abandoned children, is magical, where it could easily have seemed cheesy - a testament to the power of the song, and the passion of its performer.
Then there’s the emotion. Miss Saigon has it all - tears, laughter, suspense, romance, not to mention the most adorable little boy you’ve ever seen - in the space of two and a half hours. It’s no wonder everyone looks a bit shell-shocked by the time the curtain falls; faced with such emotional performances from the actors on stage, the audience goes through the wringer with them more than once.
But at the same time, the show is also an incredible spectacle. While those sitting closest to the stage may enjoy a more intimate experience, seats further back provide a better view of the whole jaw-dropping scene at key moments: the opening number in the club, for example, and - of course - the unforgettable helicopter scene. (Really, it’s worth seeing Miss Saigon at the Prince Edwards just for the helicopter alone.)
In short, it’s easy to see why the show just won nine Whatsonstage awards (among them Best West End Show, Best Revival of a Musical, and all the Best Actor and Actress in a Musical awards). The story of Miss Saigon is an updated version of Puccini’s 1904 opera Madama Butterfly, and isn’t only about Kim and Chris. It’s about the tragedy and waste of war, and how both countries and families can be torn apart by the blind hatred of others. Miss Saigon may be set in 1970s Vietnam, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant to the world we live in today. Maybe that's what makes it so powerful. Whatever it is, this is a very special show, and one that's hard to forget once you've seen it. So what are you waiting for?