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Theatre: Miss Saigon Lives On!

15 May 2014

My all-time favourite musical, Miss Saigon, has landed back in London this month, 25 years after it first arrived on the scene making an overnight sensation of the newly discovered Lea Salonga and causing just as much controversy over the casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer. But it is the heartbreaking and lush score and chill-worthy/show-stopping helicopter scene that most audience members will remember. I remember seeing my first production of Miss Saigon when I was in high school and having a custom made dress made from Little Saigon for prom -- yes, I was that obsessed. :)
The Company © Miss Saigon 2014. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench.
So how does this new revamped production measure up?
A big shout out to the set design team of Totie Driver and Matt Kinley - wow! The set is dark, brooding, broken and perfectly compliments the show.  Bruno Poet's lighting design is a perfect pairing highlighting all the purposeful defects of the set and the horrors of the war and Kim's circumstances.  I won't spoil it for you but at the climatic Act I finale I was left speechless by the dramatic and powerful use of lighting.  And in a day when projections have become common place in theatre, it was refreshing to see very little use of projections aside from Bui Doi and American Dream. And yes -- o yes -- "Kim's Nightmare" was FANTASTIC!
Jon Jon Briones © Miss Saigon 2014. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench.
And as for the cast? As a whole they were well deserving of the standing ovation they received on 13 May 2014 when I was in attendance. Together as a company they were strong vocally, artistically and the dance numbers during The Morning of the Dragon and The American Dream in particular packed a punch. Please note there are spoilers.

Jon Jon Briones (The Engineer) was part of the original London cast in 1989. His energy was top-notch and his comedic timing made him the most hilarious Engineer I have personally seen while his crassness and realistic acting made me want to punch him.  You need a good combination of the two to create a standout Engineer and I fail to remember the other Engineers I have seen after watching his performance which was from start to finish a showstopper.

Eva Noblezada (Kim) is making her professional debut in this role at the age of 17 and so many comparison will be made to Lea Salonga. In truth, I too was looking for similarities but forgot all about that and just enjoyed her marvellous performance by the time we go to her This Money's Yours which was so powerful and forceful that I had to remind myself she was only seventeen. If possible, her performance only got better as the show went on and by the time she was singing the revised finale song - Little God of My Heart - she had most likely won every heart in the theatre and had me in tears. Her I'd Give My Life For You act I finale was perhaps the best vocally and emotionally of the evening.

Alistair Brammer (Chris) was strong vocally and had some unique interpretations in Act II that helped make this role his very own but whether you leave the theatre loving his Chris is uncertain.  Several things that had me scratching my head with mixed emotions -- in Confrontation when Chris is justifiably angry about his inability to do anything for Kim when the Americans pulled out of Vietnam, Brammer had a temper tantrum of sorts kicking and hitting furniture and in the Finale when Chris finds Kim dying, he is extremely uncomfortable holding her and even lets go at one point. I am still undetermined about whether I liked his interpretation -- granted the show is still in previews.

Tamsin Carroll (Ellen) and Hugh Maynard (John) were the two weakest members of the company IMO.  Tamsin's voice in I Still Believe was too pitchy for me but did seem to even out during Act II.  Hugh's voice was very weak (even during Bui Doi where you hope for him to pack a punch with this showstopper of a song) and there was either a microphone glitch or his voice just did not carry well enough because half of his lines were lost from the grand circle where I sat.

Kwang-Ho Hong (Thuy) gave a solid performance and his Coo-Coo Princess/You Will Not Touch Him made him sympathetic if not likeable.

Rachelle Ann Go (Gigi) gave a very solid performance and was just the right mixture of toughness and vulnerability. When she asked John (Hugh Maynard) to take her to America and subsequently in her The Movie in My Mind number you really felt for her.

And now for the lyrical and song changes:
Ugh! No seriously -- UGH. Several songs had very little lyrical changes and yet the song titles were changed such as -- "Telephone Song" changed to "Asking for Leave" -- and you have to say why? What is the point? There were changes throughout the entire libretto which is to be expected when a show is presented as "The New Production of…" but the most jarring changes took place in Act II.  

A favourite of mine, "Please", was changed to "Too Much for One Heart" and not for the better. The song began after Kim had introduced John to Tam in her dressing room and seemed like a poor cut and paste job had been done.

Additional lyric changes took place in "Room 317" during the meeting between Kim and Ellen followed by the disappointing "Maybe" which now replaces "Now That I've Seen Her". I really wanted to like the new song for Ellen's sake (one of my favourite characters when well played) but it was tragic. With "Now That I've Seen Her" Ellen gets a chance to fight for her man and their happiness but in "Maybe" she lacks any feelings of betrayal and anger and there is no longer any backbone to her character. I actually ended up wanting Chris to choose Kim over Ellen after that song.

Follow my disappointment with "Maybe" with an equally disappointing change to "The Confrontation" which starts with just Chris and Ellen -- at first I thought this might work giving an intimacy to their confrontation but then John arrives midway through and there are a good couple lines devoted to catching him up and it becomes an awkward downhill spin. Ellen's line "But Chris, she still loves you" loses its power when its changed to "But John, she still loves him" and again I have to ask myself WHY were these changes necessary? By the end of the show, Ellen has lost all her backbone and often a good actress can help flesh out her character and help her become something more then the "other woman". Not so in this production unfortunately. :(

If you have had the chance to see the show, I'd love to hear your thoughts and if you haven't seen it yet, I would definitely recommend a visit! Overall the show was ***** and definitely worthy of the standing ovation the cast received.

1 comment:

  1. WOW now I am so curious to see it! Changes?! WHAT?! lol Guess I'll have to keep an open mind. :)

    ReplyDelete

Thanks so much for sharing with me! Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated!
x Joy

 

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