Miss Saigon review: 'Tremendously slick'
While the first half zips along, the second half is emotionally flat
Nick Clark is the arts correspondent of The Independent. He joined the newspaper in June 2007, initially reporting on the stock markets. He has covered beats including the City, and technology, media and telecoms and made the switch to arts in December 2011. He has also contributed articles to the sports section.
Friday 23 May 2014
Miss Saigon has been off the West End stage for 15 years, but any doubt it may no longer find an audience was put to bed when its return broke the record for opening day ticket sales.
The musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, who wrote Les Miserables, opened initially at Theatre Royal in London in 1989 and ran for a decade.
No expense has been spared in resurrecting the love story based on the opera Madame Butterfly, and it looks grand in its new surroundings of the Prince Edward Theatre in the heart of Soho. The director duties, original carried out by Sir Nicholas Hytner, have fallen to Laurence Connor, whose credits include the Jesus Christ Superstar arena tour, the new production of The Phantom of the Opera and the UK tour of Oliver!
The production is opulently staged and tremendously slick; the creative team has left nothing to chance in making sure the audience is left thinking they got value for money from the ticket. Actors Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada perform in 'Miss Saigon'
The action has moved from Butterfly’s Japan to the Vietnam War, opening in Dreamland, the sleazy bar run by Engineer, who acts as pimp and general fixer for the American marines.
There marine Chris, lost and disillusioned with the war, is thrown together with naïve bar girl Kim, who is struggling to deal with the death of her parents. They fall in love but are tragically torn apart by the fall of Saigon.
The opening mixes large-scale upbeat numbers such as The Heat is on in Saigon with the more moving introspection from the bargirls of The Movie in My Mind.
The blockbuster set pieces are the real selling point of the show. The fabled helicopter is back and better than ever; the chaos of the fall of Saigon is excellently done.
The lovers are excellent. Alistair Brammer as Chris, who was in the film of Les Miserables, has a strong voice as demonstrated on numbers such as Why God Why?
Yet Eva Noblezada as Kim is the revelation. The producers took a real gamble in putting an 18-year-old with no credits to her name into a lead role but it pays off handsomely. Eva Noblezada is the show's revelation aged just 18
She was spotted after reaching the finals of the National High School Music Theatre Awards in the US. She handles the music with ease and brings an emotional range that belies her years.
The best part in Miss Saigon goes to Engineer by turns unpleasant, funny, oily and charismatic. Jon Jon Briones, who was in the original cast as part of the ensemble, gets his teeth into the role with relish and received the warmest applause of the night.
In a show of set pieces Engineer’s The American Dream is the other stand out alongside the evacuation of Saigon, as dancing girls cavort in front of a shiny Cadillac under a gilded head of the Statue of Liberty.
While the first half zips along it becomes patchier in the second half and less engaging. Yet as the story spins towards its inevitable conclusion I found little emotional engagement in the story of the couple torn apart by war and the ending is curiously flat.
Sir Cameron Mackintosh described it as “one of the greatest musicals ever written” which seems a bit of a stretch. Yet the scale and ambition of the production means few fans of musical theatre will be left wanting.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling