Miss Saigon review: 'Tremendously slick'

While the first half zips along, the second half is emotionally flat

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The Independent Culture

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.

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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.

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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.