Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s follow up to the 1985 West End hit Les Miserables (which is still running almost 30 years later) was the 1989 production of Miss Saigon. Based on the Puccini Opera Madame Butterfly, the musical opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1989 where it played for just over 10 years. Now, 15 years after it closed, Cameron Mackintosh has flown the production back in to the West End at the Prince Edward Theatre. But can this classic show live up to the high expectations that West End theatre-goers now have?
Miss Saigon tells the story of the Vietnam War. GI’s Chris and John go to blow off steam in a bar and Chris ends up spending the night with 17 year old prostitute Kim, who has just arrived at the bar after losing her family in the war. The girls in the bar are under the watchful eye of their slimy pimp, known as The Engineer, who’s plotting and scheming ways are focused around finding a way to get an American Visa so he can start a new life. Chris promises to come back for Kim and take her to America to start a new life with him but once back in the US he finds love and marriage with Ellen, whilst Kim never loses hope that he will return for her. When news reaches Chris that Kim has had his child, he travels to Bangkok with wife Ellen to see if it is true. Will Chris leave his wife Ellen and carry out his promise to Kim, or will he leave Kim high and dry with his son?
The hugely orchestrated songs in Miss Saigon are classic musical theatre compositions. From the upbeat opening number The Heat Is On through to the incredibly spine-tingling The Last Night of the World, every song is wonderful. What Miss Saigon has that many new musicals forget, is that each character has their own melody that runs continually throughout the show, meaning you associate different pieces of music with different characters, meaning that in dramatic moments your senses can be heightened by bringing everything together in one place.
Jon Jon Briones plays the Engineer perfectly, with humour and sleaze. Jon Jon starred in the original 1989 cast of Miss Saigon and it is wonderful to see him playing one of the lead roles 25 years later. Eva Noblezada (Kim) makes her professional and West End debut in this show, giving the sweet, tender innocence that only an 18 year old could bring to this kind of role. Phillipino pop star Rachelle Ann Go plays Gigi with sex and sass, growling as she sings in true pop star performance. Hugh Maynard returns to play the role of John in this production after having been the youngest person to play this role on the 2004 UK tour. Alistair Brammer is the sex symbol in the production as Chris. Alistair has starred in Les Mis (West End and Film) as well as War Horse and Joseph. Despite cracking on a few notes during the performance I saw, I still found him a joy to watch and listen to.
It has been reported that Cameron Mackintosh recouped the £4million it cost to put on the show by the end of three weeks of previews, something very rarely done. More than 300,000 new tickets were released on press night with the announcement the show was extend it booking period by 5 months to April 2015, going to show that even before the critics have their say, the show is been a huge success.
Miss Saigon is a story of desperation. Desperation to be taken out of the hell you are living in, desperation to find distraction from the war you find yourself in and desperation to make a better life somewhere new. It is possibly one of the greatest musicals ever written and this production is sure to continue in the West End for a long time.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Miss Saigon is booking until 25 April 2015. Click here to book your tickets now.