Monday, 26 May 2014

Theatre review: Miss Saigon


About: Cameron Mackintosh's acclaimed new production has made its highly anticipated return to the West End, and is breaking box office records.

Since Miss Saigon's sensational record-breaking run at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane 25 years ago it has played in 300 cities in 15 different languages, winning awards around the world.

This epic musical love story tells the tragic tale of young bar girl Kim, orphaned by war, who falls in love with an American GI called Chris – but their lives are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.




Rating:


The classic musical makes an epic return to the West End


Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

This year marks the 25th anniversary of West End and Broadway sensation Miss Saigon. Combined with the renewed interest in the classics, not in the least thanks to the recent Oscar-winning film adaptation of Les Misérables, and it seems the musical theatre stars are aligned for a successful revival of the tragic love story based on Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly.

The story is this: In 1970s Saigon, at the tail end of the Vietnam War, 17-year-old recently orphaned Kim (Eva Noblezada) works as a bar girl at a sleazy club called 'Dreamland' - which is run by The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones) - when she meets an all-American handsome sergeant by the name of Chris (Alistair Brammer).

They predictably soon fall passionately and hopelessly in love and while the story seems straightforward from there on out, we flash-forward three years into the future and the two lovebirds are no longer together. Kim is still pining after Chris, who has gone back to America and it's unsure whether he'll ever return to Saigon, and is now carrying around a memento of the time with her American man in the form of Tam, their 3-year-old son.


Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Noblezada, who makes her professional debut in the lead role of Kim, was absolutely sensational. From the moment she opened her mouth we had goosebumps and they never truly left until her final scene. She played Kim equal parts young and vulnerable and mature far beyond her age, and she hit every single note with stunning pitch perfection. She had great chemistry with Brammer's Chris, who also impressed with a powerful musical theatre voice. He did have a few minor misses, but they should hopefully soon be ironed out.

Briones was the other star in the production and he managed to make The Engineer both the comical highlight of the show and also creepy and dark. This sounds contradictory and neigh impossible but Briones makes it work as he oozes charisma and charm, even in his most sinister moments. Interesting to note is that the actor was part of the ensemble in the original London production all those years ago, so for him to now play one of the leads brings his career beautifully full circle.

They were surrounded by a strong supporting cast, which was most evident in the large-scale scenes where this epic production wowed the audience with big and bold numbers and (almost) tight choreography. There were moments where we watching the stage with our mouths open as the huge scenes were unfolding in front of our eyes; they weren't like anything we've seen on a London stage before.


Photo credit: Michael Le Poer Trench

The second half of the show wasn't quite as impressive as those first two epic hours. The Engineer had one sensational show-stopping performance with The American Dream, where Briones truly came into his own and which pulled out all the musical theatre stops with jazz-hands, feather-clad showgirls and a giant sparkling Statue of Liberty rising from the stage. And then there was of course the highly anticipated helicopter scene - we will not spoil how it was done but we can say that the spectacle was a feast for the eye.

Other than those two memorable scenes however, there were no stand-out moments or emotional sparks and the shortness of the act made the ending feel somewhat abrupt and premature. We would've liked to have seen Noblezada wow us one more time as she'd been so breathtaking in the first half, but we felt she was given less of a chance to shine towards the end.

Nonetheless, the epic spectacle that is Miss Saigon is big theatre at its very best. While it may lack an emotional punch in its final hour, this was more than made up for by the thrilling spectacle unfolding on the stage. At times it was surreal to think that what we were watching was in actual fact theatre, and not something which was filmed on a much larger scale. Not to mention that having the privilege to see Eva Noblezada in her first professional role is worth the ticket price alone. She is a star in the making and watching her shine on that stage was a humbling experience.

Miss Saigon is playing at the Prince Edward Theatre and is currently taking bookings until April 2015.


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