5 June 2014

Powerful Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre

Miss Saigon was another of those West End blockbuster musicals that I was aware of but had no interest in going to until an offer of cheap tickets came up at work.

Once I had bought my tickets I found out a little about the show more or less by accident. There was a piece on it in Radio 4's arts programme Front Row and my barber told me that he had been to see it.

One of the things that I found out was that it was by the same team who did Les Miserables which worried me as I found that laughably bad. More encouraging was the feedback on the helicopter and other physical aspects of the new production.

So it was with some anticipation and foreboding that I took my seat (J6) in the smartly refurbished Prince Edwards Theatre.

It opened spectacularly with loud bangs and flashing red lights throughout the theatre alerting us that we were in an active war zone.

The production continued in much the same vein and it was a bit like watching a full-on action film like Die Hard 4.0.

Most of the music was power-ballads in the Jim Steinman style. I did not recognise any of them but they were pleasant enough.

The lyrics (again) sounded like they were rejected by Hallmark for their cheaper range of cards. Spotting the rhyme was far too easy. Les Miserables had the same problem. Miss Saigon survived the poor lyrics by having more dramatic music.

The plot was based on Madam Butterfly but twisted so that the American soldier and his wife became innocent parties in the tragic ending.

That ending was spoilt a little by adding the rabble-rousing song The American Dream in to the middle of the tragedy. It was spoilt a little more when the cast did their curtain calls to another uplifting tune. I appreciate that the formula for musicals dictates that you end with a big song but either that rule should be broken or musicals should stick to plots with happy endings.

The singing was much better than I expected and unless it was done very cleverly there was no amplification used (except for one song which required vocal effects like echo). I was watching closely and the source of the singing moved around the stage with the singers rather than always coming from the sides.

I thought that one of the supporting characters was off a little and one was a bit weak but these were relatively minor roles and all the main players were good, especially Eva Noblezada as Kim (Miss Saigon). Oddly this was not seen as the main role and the last person to take a curtain call was Jon Jon Briones who played The Engineer who played only a minor role in the story but who got most of the livelier songs to sing.

There was a real orchestra too and that always helps.

The few niggles aside, Miss Saigon was well conceived, superbly produced and highly entertaining. I don't think I'll join the crowd who have seen the show several times but I am glad that I saw it this once.

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