currently booking until December 2015
Fulfils everything you want from a big West End musical: impressive set pieces, high drama, big powerful anthems and a stunning central performance
I’ve been waiting a long time to see this classic, ever since this new West End revival of Miss Saigon was announced. Having had a recent cast change, it’s a good time to see the show which is currently in its second year at the Prince Edward Theatre.
Transporting the story of Madame Butterfly to the Vietnamese War, the musical covers a three year period and shifts geographically from East to West – and back again – as the consequences of the central romance continue to be felt. It really is an epic, and it’s about time that I ticked this one off the list.
The star of the show is undoubtedly Eva Noblezada as tragic heroine Kim. Unbelievably making not only her West End debut but her professional theatre debut, Noblezada looks every bit the seasoned performer as she enraptures the audience with her incredible vocal power and range, and her undeniable stage presence. Chris Peluso is functional if not outstanding as American GI Chris: his performance can’t help but be overshadowed by that of Noblezada in pure strength and magnetism, although I enjoyed his rendition of powerful anthem ‘Why God Why?’
Understudies were on at this performance for Ellen (Claire Parrish) and the Engineer (Christian Rey Marbella), and the latter in particular stood out as more than capable of taking on the role full-time. While Jon Jon Briones has received rave reviews for this portrayal, I honestly wouldn’t have known Marbella was the understudy: fellow theatre-goers commented his vocals are not as powerful, but for me what this role needs above all is charisma – the ability to charm the audience despite his fundamentally greedy and opportunistic character. Marbella has this in spades, and his grasping, bitter yet triumphant performance of showstopper ‘The American Dream’ is a highlight. Credit should also go to Hugh Maynard for an unexpectedly emotional and rousing performance of ‘Bui Doi’ to open Act II.
Romantic anthem ‘Sun and Moon’ is a little too syrupy for my tastes, but to love this show you have to embrace your hopelessly romantic side, and Kim’s reprise of the song in Act II creates a moving echo of lost love. Disappointingly, a couple of the big ensemble numbers (notably ‘The Heat Is On in Saigon’ and ‘The Morning of the Dragon’), despite impressive spectacle, are marred by poor diction – a real problem in a sung-through musical where these scenes mark an introduction to the plot, or a shift in time. Even those who haven’t seen the show have likely heard of the famous helicopter scene, and it is as spectacular as I had hoped, bringing the high drama of ‘Kim’s Nightmare’ to a fantastic climax.
The ending, which I had secretly hoped would make me want to shed a few tears, is unfortunately rushed; at 2 hours 50 minutes, the production could do with cutting earlier moments to make a little more room for the tragedy of the conclusion to be felt more deeply. Similarly, I would love to have seen more focus on Gigi (Natalie Mendoza), as the contrast of her raucous personality and her performance of ‘Movie In My Mind’ is a heart-rending moment.
However, Miss Saigon fulfils everything you want from a big West End musical: impressive set pieces, high drama, big powerful anthems and a stunning central performance. With rumours afoot that Aladdin is set to take over at the Prince Edward next summer, here’s hoping Miss Saigon finds another home so another generation can enjoy this modern classic.