Sunday 15 February 2015

Miss Saigon @ Prince Edward Theatre

Miss Saigon Prince Edward Theatre

As a child, visiting the theatre in London was a big deal. The bustling city, the magnificent theatres, the epic stories to be told. It was special.

Now, as an adult, Miss Saigon brings back those feelings. It is a true piece of event theatre. In part that's due to the name (and that of the composers, Schönberg & Boublil of Les Mis fame), but also it's the grandeur of the Prince Edward theatre, the electric buzz of the audience, and the sheer amount of money and polish that's gone into the production.

In short, Miss Saigon has everything a musical should have.

Its plot, a retelling of Puccini's Madame Butterfly set in the Vietnam war, is an intense love story that teeters into melodrama yet somehow remains credible. Its lead characters are richly drawn and easy to root for. Its historical setting is detailed and believable in its tragic mix of East-meets-West. Its only flaw is that it's somewhat long-winded, but the lengthy running time whips by quickly enough.

The score, meanwhile, is Schönberg and Boublil's best - yes, it's better than Les Mis. It's got all the big tunes you'd expect: "The Movie In My Mind", "Why God Why?", "Last Night Of The World", "Bui Doi". The first half especially is just a string of hits, merging American showtunes, Asian romance and military marches. Yet for all its emotional bombast, it's the smaller touches that bring it to life: the mournful sound of a flute, the gentle plucking of a zither, the sumptuous vocal harmonies of the wedding scene. Gorgeous doesn't begin to cover it.

With music like this, simply performing the notes would be enough. But the cast go above and beyond. As the Engineer, Jon Jon Briones brings humour with a showstopping delivery of "The American Dream", whilst understudy Dale Evans has a richly lyrical tenor as Chris, silkily manoeuvring through difficult and consistently high melodies with ease. Tamsin Carroll also brings touching emotion to Ellen, the other woman. Eva Noblezada, though, is an absolute revelation as Kim. She balances the innocence and strength of the role, with an angelic voice of vulnerability and power. It is as if she is singing straight to your soul - no wonder her songs are frequently accompanied by sniffles in the audience.

Spectacle is just the icing on the cake. And it's not just the famous helicopter, impressive as that is. Its the size of the sets, the precision of militaristic choreography, the stunningly designed backdrops, and even the simplicity of a song performed in spotlight. The amount of detail is astonishing, presented with cinematic flair (though screen imagery during "Bui Doi" feels a little heavy-handed). It's no wonder there's a film adaptation in the works.

And so it's clear: Miss Saigon is the best production currently on the West End. Yes, it's blockbuster entertainment, but it puts every other show into perspective. This is how musicals should be done.


Watch: Miss Saigon is booking until December 2015.