Finally, my dreams of seeing Miss Saigon on stage have become a reality. Having adored the music for years, and sung my heart out to song after song whilst growing up, my expectations were high and my excitement was through the roof.
Luckily, the current West End production of Miss Saigon does not disappoint.
The Prince Edward Theatre is beautiful, and no expense had been spared on the set. The steps, buildings, fencing and even a helicopter were skillfully moved around the stage, and visually the performance was a treat.
I have to start by talking about Eva Noblezada, who played the most stunning version of Kim my childhood dreams could have imagined. There has been a lot of buzz around her in the role, and I can see why. Her voice was truly spectacular, with the beautiful essence of someone who appears like every note is effortless. Her huge songs were phenomenal, but never pushed too far, never a note was strained for, and never did show-stopping notes become ‘shouty’ or ‘shrill’. ‘I’d Give My Life for You’ was a real stand-out moment of Act One, as was ‘You Will Not Touch Him’ – a scene which had me in tears. Her acting went hand-in-hand with her vocal performance, with the early innocence and vulnerability growing into strength and an intense focus on the path she believed to be right. I could write a whole post about Noblezada. Even if the rest of the show had been disappointing (which it wasn’t), I’d urge people to go for her alone.
Some of my favourite moments of Kim were in the scenes she shared with Ellen, who was played by Siobhan Dillon. Ellen is a tricky part, as she has so much emotion to show in such little stage time, and has to elicit sympathy from an audience very much feeling for Kim. Dillon handled the part well, and her voice was lovely. In ‘I Still Believe’ it played perfectly against Noblezada, and in ‘Now That I’ve Seen Her’ and ‘Maybe’, Dillon used her moments to shine.
Unfortunately, Chris wasn’t quite up to the standard of some of these other players. Chris Peluso certainly looked the part, and had a good voice, but I felt some of the emotion of the character was lacking. ‘Why, God, Why?’, usually one of my favourite songs, left me feeling a little flat, and his scenes with Ellen in Act Two weren’t as believable from him as they were from his wife. However, his duets with Kim, ‘Sun and Moon’ and ‘Last Night of the World’, were performed beautifully, and I can’t deny that the pair complemented one another well.
I want to mention both Hugh Maynard, as John, and Sangwoong Jo, as Thuy, as well. Both smaller roles, but ones which have huge impact, and both played superbly. Maynard’s voice was meltingly brilliant in Bui Doi, and his acting performance in the second half in particular was a highlight. Thuy’s character has little time in which to make an impression, but make an impression is what Sangwoong Jo did, presenting a man bound by duty and presenting all that Kim was trying to escape. His voice was distinctive, and hauntingly memorable.
The chorus was a large one, and an ensemble which seemed to effortlessly handle scenes both in the seedy clubs of Saigon, and in the desperate land by the helicopters, and as GIs, and as Vietnamese performers and soldiers. The ensemble scenes were a true spectacle, and the sound of the cast as a whole was beautifully blended. ‘The Heat is on in Saigon’ was a great opener, and ‘This is the Hour’ gave me chills both times.
The absolute standout man of the show was Jon Jon Briones. The Engineer is a man caught up in greed, and in his lust for success, money and the American Dream. He must be slightly seedy, but he must also be a symbol of a man desperate to make a life for himself, who is dreaming of a world better than the situation he has found himself in. His character is at times tinged with sadness and desperation, whilst his overall presence is comedic. A hard emotion to execute correctly in a show where the subject matter is so heavy. Briones was apparently born for the role. His confidence and wit carried through into his flawless vocal performances to ensure his standing ovation was thoroughly deserved. ‘The American Dream’ was a fantastic musical number, and combined all the elements of his character seamlessly. I didn’t expect to like his character quite so much, but as I left the theatre I could get neither Kim NOR The Engineer out of my mind.