Friday, 25 July 2014

Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre - An Emotional Rollercoaster with a fuzzy intrigue. **** [A personal review]




 
Miss Saigon’s massive promotional hype has sky rocketed box office sales since the first day tickets were released. There are, apparently, no longer any weekend seats available to see this internationally recognised musical at the West End. First premiered in 1989 and performed for a decade, the new and revived Miss Saigon production comes to the Prince Edward Theatre under the direction of Lawrence Connor.

As a fan of musicals and having visited Ho Chi Minh,  (or Saigon as it was once called pre-Vietnam War,) there were expectations to hear memorable and unbeatable numbers, see hints of Vietnamese paraphernalia, and get a smidgen of war history on the theatrical stage, yet only some of these parts were addressed. They were presented in varying levels of emotional intensity with a fuzzy intrigue about them. 

The emotional roller coaster span from the shockingly devastating conditions bestowed by the Communist regime and the hope and desperation felt by the Vietnamese people parallel to a romantic love story between a G. I., Chris (Alistair Brammer) and the heroine, Kim, who is sung by 18 year-old, Eva Noblezada, who is the star with a tremendous voice that resonated throughout the auditorium. 

Miss Saigon was originally influenced by Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, Madam Chrysanthemum (where everyone seems to have forgotten the composer’s name) and the 1958 musical film, South Pacific. The overarching and all encompassing theme from these influences lead to the most obvious; it is the divide between the West and the East with reference to what the historical academic, Edward Said once called ‘Orientalism.’ It’s the obscure interest the West had with Eastern culture despite considering them as the ‘other’ inferior and ignorant.  Yet, coming into the 21st century where this is, more or less, non-existent, Chris points out a popular belief held by thousands of Anti-Vietnam war protesters, at the time, that it was a ‘senseless fight.’ 

The show is a Boublil and Schönberg production that are the same artistic directors who gave us Les Misérables. They create jaw-dropping musical entertainment with solid political relevance, which are often depicted in a brutal and matter-of-fact fashion. One of the first opening scenes is set in a brothel where Vietnamese prostitutes gyrate and are thrown around like rag dolls by American soldiers. Here, Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi sings, ‘Movie in my mind’ with tears in her eyes. It’s a disturbingly provocative scene in addition to the ‘Bui Doi’ ‘dust of life’ song, which shows a video of the half Vietnamese and half American G.I children that were left behind as a product of war.

The most exciting scene that force hearts to rush at full pelt was the helicopter sequence, which revisited the same anxiety felt by Madam Butterfly languishing over Pinkerton. It is the same loneliness and sadness felt by the innocent. Totie Driver and Matt Kinley’s stage design gave colour to such a bleak and war-torn story line but the music itself was most definitely classy with no gaps in between. Disappointingly, the lyrics never made an impression on my memory.

The conniving and, at times, clown-like character, the Engineer (Jon Jon Briones) has a delightful number,  ‘the American Dream’ which is possibly the only memorable song with its dazzling burlesque troupe, grand Cadillac entrance and glitzy statute of liberty head. Undeniably, there is a lot of experienced acting and singing dominating the stage. The production deserves credit for executing a revived classical show, which adds only a few up-to-date exceptions. 

Book your tickets HERE - It is showing until Spring 2015 until further notice