As a fan of musical theatre, Miss Saigon has been on my radar for as long as I can remember. I made a conscious decision not to find out anything about it until I could witness a production in the flesh. Thankfully, that opportunity came this year in the form of London’s current revival and I think my decision to go in with no preconceptions paid off immeasurably. I laughed. I cried a lot. I came out of the theatre quite overwhelmed to the point that I was physically shaking!
Miss Saigon’s Plot
Miss Saigon, (written by Les Mis creators Claude-Michel Schonberg & Alain Boublil) is based on the opera Madame Butterfly; it tells the tale of a tragic love story between an Asian woman and an American Soldier stemming from the midst of the Vietnam War.
It took me a little while to get into it. The plot moves quite quickly at the start of act one and I found the relationship between Kim (played by Eva Noblezada) and Chris (played by Alistair Brammer) quite unrealistic. After accepting that, it felt like it all started to fall into place somewhere in the middle of the first act.
Miss Saigon’s Similarity To Les Miserables
It certainly keeps you on your toes! Act one doesn’t make complete sense until a flashback in the second and often the characters on stage know more than the audience, meaning there are a fair few unexpected moments.
Its style is quite similar to that of Les Miserables – It jumps through time with the same characters reconnecting throughout the plot. The score is incredibly moving, it hits you right through to the core. It’s pretty much sung through. It has a comedic character that moves the plot along in the form of the Engineer (I draw a parallel here to Thenadier). It’s tragic and doesn’t shy away from the tragedy – but in a strange way, I think I preferred it!
Miss Saigon’s Music
As I mentioned, the music really hits you at the core, it’s incredibly emotive. When you look at the song list you realise it’s full of classics – Last Night of the World, I Still Believe, Now That I’ve Seen Her, Bui-Doi, Why God Why?, The American Dream … given that the show is pretty much sung through, I loved the various moments when I suddenly realised what classic song I was listening to!
Miss Saigon’s Cast
The whole cast provided a stellar performance. I was really quite overwhelmed by Eva Noblezada’s portrayal of Kim. She brought a great sense of strength yet vulnerability to the role, there was never a point at which I was confused as to what Kim was thinking or why she decided to take certain actions. She also gave one of the strongest vocal performances I’ve seen in recent years. Equally, Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer carried the audience through the show with a sort of evil wit. The engineer isn’t the nicest character but the audience was definitely on his side throughout!
I must also mention that we had understudy Callum Francis playing John – I later found out that it was his first performance in the role, which is really quite astounding – Bui-Doi made me weep buckets!
Miss Saigon’s Helicopter Scene
If anyone talks about Miss Saigon they always mention the Helicopter – now I understand why! I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but I will say that when I knew it was coming my heart rate quickened, you can literally feel it … then I started crying again … then it got its own round of applause. Thank goodness I got the opportunity to see this iconic scene live.
My Verdict on Miss Saigon
Overall, this is an exceedingly high quality, visually remarkable production, of what I now consider to be a truly iconic musical. Stunning ballads are balanced out by epic whole cast numbers; tears balanced out by laughter. Given the current state of war in the world, it’s an experience that is difficult to avoid becoming emotionally engaged in. On the night I was there it received a pretty spontaneous ovation from the whole audience (including the upper circle) – an experience I will not forget for a long time to come, I can’t find any reason to not give Miss Saigon a rating of 5/5.