Robert Tanitch reviews Miss Saigon at Prince Edward Theatre, London W1
The whole block of Old Compton Street, which houses Prince Edward Theatre, was closed and red carpeted for the premiere of this revival of Miss Saigon, which has not been seen in London in fifteen years, not since its 10-year run at Drury Lane Theatre which began in 1989.
The story takes its inspiration Puccini’s opera, Madam Butterfly, premiered in 1904 and based on a play Puccini had seen in London. The doomed love affair between an American serviceman and a prostitute has been transferred from Japan at the turn of the century and set during the final days of the Vietnam War.
Cio-Cio-San and Lieutenant Pinkerton are now Kim and Chris. The major difference is that Chris is a much nicer person and does not get booed in the curtain call as normally and good-humouredly happens to opera singers who play Pinkerton.
The strength of Miss Saigon is that Claude‑Michel Schonberg’s music and Richard Maltyby Jr and Alain Boublil’s lyrics take Chris’s moral responsibility to Kim and their child seriously. The score may not be Puccini but it still carries an enormous emotional punch and there are strong performances with impressive voices by Eva Noblezada as Kim, Alistair Brammer as Chris, Tamsin Carroll as Chris’s American wife and Kwang-Ho Hong as Kim’s rejected lover.
Jon Jon Briones is cast as The Engineer, a resourceful pimp, trying to wangle an exit visa, who sees the prostitute and her child as his passport to America. He is played much more openly as a comic sleazy character.
Saigon is visually represented by giant golden effigy of Ho Chi Minh’s face and a march drilled with military precision. America is represented by a giant effigy of the Statue of Liberty’s face, a hollow mask. It is here that the Engineer has his American Dream, a cynical hymn to materialism and Broadway kitsch, a parody of a big show-stopping number, with Cadillac and showgirls.
The most exciting scene remains the frantic evacuation of Saigon and Laurence Cooper’s production handles it brilliantly with the GIs inside the compound and the civilians outside, as the last helicopter takes off, leaving hundreds behind.
At the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, approximately 50,000 children, the result of liaisons between servicemen and prostitutes, were abandoned. Hugh Maynard delivers a powerful statement about these forgotten half-breeds: “They’re called Bui-Doi, (translated as “the dust of life”), conceived in hell and born in strife. They are the living reminders of all the good we failed to do. We can’t forget, must not forget that they are all our children too.”
Miss Saigon has already broken all records for advance booking.