Miss Saigon has only earlier this year returned to the West End and has taken the box office by storm and it is already set to shut by February 2016. As the production costs and maintenance are huge and the venue is not enjoying full houses all the time it is only natural to see it go away as fast as it appeared. So before it shut, I had the pleasure of watching it on the 19th of September 2015.
Miss Saigon is the story of a Vietnamese girl, Kim, who is working in a brothel in Saigon. She falls in love with an American soldier, Chris, they quickly get married and try to move to the USA as the troops are vacating Vietnam, but she stays behind and unbeknownst to him, she is pregnant. The musical then follows the plot to their reunion and everything that happens in the mean time, politically in Saigon, now Ho Chi Min, and to the characters’ romantic entanglements in their own countries.
Knowing the history and background of the musical, I have to give the biggest praise to the creative team! Choreography and set played with each other beautifully. One of the most phenomenal numbers The Fall of Saigon is set with a set of moveable fences that rotate and change positions as we to and fro between Kim outside the fence and Chris stuck inside. With dancers flinging themselves fearlessly at the fence to truly demonstrate the desperation and desire to escape as well as the fear of those who wanted to keep the gates shut. It was beautifully created and truly showed that not only are the cast extremely talented, but are supported by a creative dream team. From Bob Avian, musical staging, Geoffrey Garratt, additional choreography, Totie Driver, Matt Kinley and Adrian Vaux, set design; this incredible group of people enable the cast to perform in a stage that not only supports the narrative and contextualises it. they are truly able to embellish the performance and add to the brilliant production of this musical. This also shows why the production is having to shut early, as cost wise I can only imagine the rotating sets and the live helicopter must cost a fortune to uphold. Regardless, for this alone, the sheer detail, flexibility and creativity of the set, the entire production was worth watching. In my opinion, one of the best uses of space in theatre I have seen in a while in terms of stage, set and choreography design. Bravo!
Let me talk about Jon Jon Briones. Jon Jon took upon perhaps the most iconic, comedic and full character of the entire show, The Engineer. A character that does not have a name per say, but leads and drives majority of the plot by his sheer cunning and desire and belief that he will go to the USA and pursue the American dream – fantastic number by the way. He is, in my opinion, the true star of the entire cast. The small nuances that made the character and he maintained throughout the show, from small hand gestures, quick flicks of the wrist and a nasal pronunciation of only certain words.He kept the character true to his sleazy self, but always with a flair of superiority and class. Jon Jon completely captured the Engineer, his slimy, self centered egotistical ways, his way of pretending and demonstrating himself as superior but then cowering at the first sign of fear. A true talent, with an amazing set of pipes to add the mix, I am proud to say he held his own to show the performing excellence that comes from the Philippines.
Eva Noblezada was fantastic as Kim. Kim was a character that started off for me as truly irritating. I cannot stand women that are lead entirely by men in their lives, from the Engineer, to her father, ex husband Thuy and even driven only by potentially being with Chris, the entire first act of Miss Saigon truly makes Kim for me a very difficult character to like. That being said, political context and all she was very well written and developed. In the second half, as she has grown as a mother and we are introduced to her son Tam, we begin to see that not only out of love for a man who left her, but mostly an ideal of that, it is truly the love for her son that drives her forward. This for me is incredible. There are many people, feminists, that will say she should not need this incentive to move forward, but being a mother is the one thing that truly distinguishes us from men, it is a capacity only we have and a connection that only we can have with our children. As the presence of this boy nearly brought me to tears, I was interrupted from my potential crying by my mother and sister seated either side of me sobbing and sniffling relentlessly for Tam. Noblezada, accompanied by her phenomenal, awe provoking and goosepump causing voice, took on this challenging, powerful and multi dimensional character beautifully. She embodied Kim entirely, and I had the pleasure of seeing her transform from a quiet, shy but filled with morals young innocent girl to a woman with a purpose in 2 hours. It killed me to watch Kim’s end, but it was very much where the story was leading and Noblezada showed us a fighter and warrior the entire way. Truly fantastic.
Disappointingly, her leading man left much to desire. And I LOVE THIS! I love that this man was a failure to his first love and child, I love that this man isn’t even man enough for his current partner. I love that he is torn apart and has no clue what to do with himself, and that even in war, he was weakened by his emotions, weakened by his desire to leave and love. I think this is a TRUE character. In that this person actually lives amongst us. A man with difficulty to accept and remember the troubled past of war, and that struggles with something that was ripped out of him. I am just saddened that they cast Chris Peluso to portray the fantastically real and failed character of Chris. A nasal voice, not much in terms of delivery of character development, it is a shame that he was not left in the background as an all swinging and singing chorus member. I feel this was not the role for him because he perhaps did not understand the complexity and wonderfulness of playing a character that is so completely damaged, a MAN in theatre that is so devastatingly broken. A man who was not capable of being the hero.
I had not come across Miss Saigon in film or stage before, and although I had some idea of the type of music and setting I was so overwhelmed by how well constructed it is. It was a true delight to watch it and be able to now share with you my views. It is an outstanding piece of theatre and music and I can see why it returns to the West End regularly, in spite of how costly it is to run. A genuine tear jerker, set in the woes of war we know devastated and destroyed a lot of families, people and countries, and that today we still see remnants of it. Overall one of the most phenomenal pieces I have seen, but do not think I could go through that much emotion again on stage. Give me 5 years to recover.
Miss Saigon is set to be removed from the Prince Edward Theatre in February 2016. It would be a true shame if you did not spend 2 hours of your time going to watch this. Click here for info and ticket details.