This much-heralded West End revival of the Boublil-Schonberg musical brings back the doomed love story of Kim the bar-girl and Chris the marine (based loosely on the opera ‘Madame Butterfly’) with some new choreography, a slight reboot of lyrics, a new song for Ellen, and a cast which is headed by show veteran Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer and new discovery Eva Noblezada as Kim.
If you’ve seen the show before, you’ll know what to expect – epic staging, emotional impact, humorous interludes, and excellent performances. And yes, the helicopter is back, in one of the staging highlights. Last night’s show had the understudy (Niall Sheehy) on for Chris, and to my eyes he didn’t quite have the chemistry needed to gel with Eva’s Kim, although their duets (‘Sun and Moon’ and ‘Last Night of the World’) were still affecting.
The opening sequence in the sleazy Saigon bar – ‘The Heat is On’ – now has different lyrics and feels a little bit cramped and cheap, but despite this Gigi’s predicament as the crowned whore who cannot get a passage out of the hell-hole she finds herself in to a better life is well portrayed by Rachelle Ann Go. As John (Hugh Maynard) sets the tragedy in motion by buying the sexual services of the innocent Kim for Chris, the fall of Saigon seems just a heartbeat away.
Other highlights are the vibrant victory parade ‘Morning of the Dragon’, the choral melody of ‘Bui-Doi’ (although I am not a fan of Maynard’s approach to this, a bit too gospel for me), the intensity of ‘This is the Hour’, and the light relief of the big production number ‘The American Dream’ where we find that The Engineer’s ambition only stretches as far as being the greatest pimp in the Western world, as he postures around in cheap plastic pants and attitude singing of selling blondes ‘you can charge on a card’.
I did miss Ellen’s solo ‘Her or Me’ in the early years, then ‘Now That I’ve Seen Here’. The new song, ‘Maybe’ is OK, but just not as memorable, and it does not advance the story as much.
All these years after the close of the Vietnam war, ‘Miss Saigon’ feels more a historical piece than it did back in 1989. when the cast was made up of a mainly Western cast even in the Asian roles. Now the cast is majority Filipino or Korean, and what a talented bunch they are. The night belongs to Eva Noblezada though. Only eighteen and able to bring all the vulnerability and strength of soul the role requires to this exceptional staging.