When I was travelling across Malaysia last September, I sent my mother an email with the subject line MISS SAIGON DATES!!! which contained strict instructions on how and when to book tickets for Miss Saigon. To my delight, she triumphed by snapping up a pair of Row B tickets on the Friday before Press Night. She now has my eternal gratitude.
On the same day that she received her confirmation email, so did thousands of others, as Miss Saigon broke box office records by making £4.4 million in a single day of tickets sales. Then came months of waiting, anticipating a musical that would bring a powerful new spectacle to the West End.
Powerful is an understatement. The romance between an American GI and a vulnerable Vietnamese girl begins in sleazy club, before the Fall of Saigon threatens the future of the young lovers as Chris returns to the United States and leaves Kim behind. The intensity and the tragedy of the story is maintained fantastically over nearly three hours, which is a testament to how excellent the cast are. The songs are familiar yet sung with a resurging vigour, and the set was effective without being extravagant, but busy enough to see where your money has gone.
West End newcomer Eva Noblezada is only just eighteen, but she displays the determination and vulnerability of Kim with sheer authenticity. Her voice does justice to the heartfelt lyrics and melodies that were sung so beautifully by Lea Salonga in the original production, and I believe that her London debut will catapult her into the lead roles of many more productions to come.
Together with Alistair Brammer, who plays Chris, a glowing chemistry is portrayed that makes the relationship entirely believable. Having played Marius in Les Mis before, Brammer is suitably tender, yet I found myself distracted by his sometimes childish actions. In one scene, his anger results in him violently kicking and rocking furniture, which didn’t appear genuine or necessary. This was, admittedly, a minor issue I had with an otherwise stellar performance.
Choosing Jon Jon Briones to play The Engineer was probably one of the best decisions made this time round. He is gruesomely sordid yet affable, the sort of character you cheer on but you aren’t quite sure why. He delivers each line with panache and his performance in ‘If You Want to Die in Bed’ and ‘The American Dream’ were knockouts, providing the audience with much-needed humour in between the intensely emotional scenes. In these scenes the staging, and also the lighting, were used brilliantly to capture his outrageous ambitions of owning a strip club in New York.
Other members of the cast who were equally talented were Rachelle Ann Go as the smouldering Gigi and Hugh Maynard as Chris’s friend and fellow GI, John. Maynard’s performance in ‘Bui-Doi’ was breathtaking; his voice boomed above the male choir behind him and reflected genuinely the American soldiers realisation that even though they thought they’d never ‘give a damn’, they will actually ‘never leave Vietnam’ whilst there are American children left behind.
There have been some changes to the original production, with Ellen’s song ‘Now That I’ve Seen Her’ being replaced by ‘Maybe’. Minor changes to the lyrics have also been reported, but for someone who did not see the original production this was not noticed. One crucial element that still remains in this production is the helicopter. I can understand why it has resonated so famously with theatregoers since 1989, as both the sight and sounds of the machine were fantastic. Its appearance, for me, beats the chandelier in Phantom of the Opera and the barricades in Les Mis for its dramatic effect and overall impressiveness! This is a reason to see the show on its own.
Miss Saigon is a show that brought puddles of tears to the brim of my eyelids whilst making me ridiculously happy. Who knew that tragedy could make one so gleeful? Much of my weeping resulted from the compassionate relationship that was displayed between Kim and her young son Tam, who was so small I could barely comprehend it. In ‘I’d Give My Life For You’, Noblezada sings the lines so sincerely and passionately that I was completely swept up by her determination to keep her boy safe and let him be who he wants to be.
This moving musical, staged with prowess and acted ardently, certainly deserves to remain in the Prince Edward Theatre for a long time. Even if the show suggests a story too dark and depressing, Miss Saigon should be treasured for the spectacle it offers and the sheer talent of its stage actors and actresses.
*Images are not my own*