Reviews of Mackintosh’s revival of Miss Saigon have caused division in the ranks- no war pun intended. Written by Boubil and Schöenburg, Miss Saigon has naturally been compared to the original 1989 production, both positively and negatively. In particular, some critics, lamenting the loss of the Fagin-esque presentation of the Engineer conceived by Jonathan Pryce 25 years ago at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, miss the importance of this new version casting actors who can present the race of those being portrayed (in the original, Pryce wore bronzing cream and eye prostheses to ‘create’ an Asian look). This revival helps to address the bias towards Caucasian casting that is still considered by many to be a large problem in the industry.
Miss Saigon is thoroughly enjoyable. The show, based on the Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, is transposed to Saigon during the Vietnam War. As in Les Misérables, (Boubil and Schöenburg’s other success project)the creators have been inspired by warfare: a thorough exploration of politics and conflict juxtaposed against raw human emotion and intimate relationships. In Miss Saigon the focus is particularly on the women, forced to work as prostitutes and dancers, and the lack of self-efficacy and opportunity they are presented. Sequences in this production convey the terror and bewildering whirlwind of war- in particular, The Fall of Saigon in Act II with the thrilling helicopter evacuation, and continually alternating perspective, was very well staged.
Jon Jon Briones’ presentation of the Engineer is sordid but strangely likable. His energy exudes from every pore in his body, and one cannot help but become drawn into his world. 18-year-old Eva Noblezada is astounding as Kim. The clarity and maturity of her voice is just remarkable for a girl plucked from obscurity to play Mackintosh’s leading lady. Her rendition of I’d Give My Life For Youto close the first half of the show was hair-raising and a standout moment. Alistair Brammer as Chris and Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi each added pathos and sympathy to the narrative.
In summary, this musical is perfect for the musical-lover. It contains all the classic component of a west-end show; a fast-paced narrative with a love story you can invest in, immaculate singing, visual spectacle, and a Cadillac! Most importantly, perhaps, the Prince Edward Theatre’s offer of front row day seats for £20 indicates British musical theatre is seriously catering to those who cannot afford pricey seats, but love the craft.