Ginger Hibiscus | Miss Saigon (preview) – Prince Edward Theatre
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10 May Miss Saigon (preview) – Prince Edward Theatre

Eva Noblezada – Kim
Alistair Brammer – Chris
Jon Jon Briones – Engineer
Tamsin Carroll – Ellen
Hugh Maynard – John
Kwang Ho Hong – Thuy
Rachelle Ann Go – Gigi

With an extraordinary £4.4m tickets sold on the first day, Miss Saigon set a new record for single day sales in West End and Broadway history. Positioning it firmly as one of the most eagerly anticipated productions London has seen, this revival celebrates the 25th anniversary of Cameron Mackintosh’s original at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. With the press night still on the horizon (May 21st), previews are currently being played to sell-out audiences, attracting standing ovations night after night.

These ovations are absolutely deserved; the cast, crew and production team have created a show that is provocative and intriguing, somehow accomplishing the contradiction of being beautifully sophisticated whilst conveying the rotten sleaze of Dreamland. Miss Saigon tells a story loosely based on Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, of Chris, an American GI who falls in love with Vietnamese prostitute Kim, whilst stationed in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh) for the Vietnam war. Their relationship intensifies amongst the backdrop of conflict, with the US troops finally pulling out of the city, forcing Chris to leave Kim behind. A tragic love story, it is not the twists and turns of the plot that move the show along, but the motivations of the characters and the incredible emotional intensity that both tear the audience apart, and comfort them in one moment.

Of course they have the helping hand of the acclaimed original score by Boublil and Schönberg, but the score carries with it vocal gymnastics that are sensational when perfected, but that scream out if they’re missed. To say I was blown away by Rachelle Ann Go and Eva Noblezada’s “Movie in my Mind,” would be like suggesting Les Miserables is “reasonably successful.” It was my highlight of the show, with both women totally engaging with one another and with the audience who were sat enraptured. Rachelle Ann Go’s phenomenal voice and presence clearly reflect an experience and confidence refined through performing in her native Philippines, where she is a celebrated singer. Her portrayal of Gigi is absolutely writhing with the kind of sex appeal that thrills and excites- but what excited me more was that we caught a glimpse of the woman behind the suspenders, a strong and ambitious person making the best of her life in all the ways that she can. An element of this is inherent in Boublil and Maltby’s lyrics, but Rachelle Ann Go somehow walks around the stage in lingerie, and far from being objectified for it, dismissed and contemned, she commands the respect of every single person in the auditorium.

This glimpse into the motivations and desires of the women is what really sets this production apart; rather than being just hysterical, emotional, 2-dimensional pretty faces, we can really empathise with them. When Eva Noblezada’s character sacrifices herself at the end of the play, we almost feel that we would have done the same, given the same situation, and although awfully tragic, there is a small part of us that feels a kind of closure because of it. One of the reasons for this is the introduction of Ellen’s new song, “Maybe,” yet another look into the mind and motivation of a strong woman. It is so easy to yearn for Chris to end up with Kim and Tam, but this song, performed heartbreakingly by Tamsin Carroll, forces the audience to confront the complexity of Chris’ relationships with the two women, and Ellen’s inner turmoil as she searches for what to do. Torn between her love for Chris, her knowledge of his relationship with Kim and wanting to do the right thing for Tam, she is transformed from being, “the other woman” into a key player whose influence over Chris is pivotal both to the plot and to the audience’s attitude towards her. We leave with the curious feeling that Tam is in safe hands with Ellen as a step-mother, and that, in a way, Kim has accomplished what she intended. There is no denying that Eva Noblezada’s voice is breathtakingly beautiful. She plays Kim convincingly and carries the show along, hitting every single note effortlessly. Like Chris, we feel protective over her character; we support her and champion her, thanks to her passion and her absolutely captivating on stage chemistry with little Tam.

Jon Jon Briones’ Engineer was a masterclass in characterisation; we’ve all met someone like the Engineer, someone repugnantly sleazy yet warm and engaging, who could probably talk the Queen into lending him her crown for a fancy dress party. I loved his cheeky portrayal of the Engineer; his delivery of some of the best lines of the show threw a much-needed life-raft of laughter into the waves of emotional intensity that were breaking over the audience. The perfect example of this is his performance of, “American Dream,” drawing the biggest cheer of the night. It epitomises the Engineer’s ability to conjure an image of something spectacular out of nothing, brought to an explosive climax through bold, brash, and incredibly over the top production and the outrageous charisma of Briones.

It would be amiss to write about Miss Saigon without any mention of a helicopter, so if you would rather keep it a surprise, stop reading now. The helicopter, a huge mechanical beast that arrives to pick Chris up as he flees Saigon is, to me, both wonderful and terrible. It certainly makes for a fantastic showpiece, and it is a great touch to visualise the nightmare scene. But I found its’ motion to be thoroughly unconvincing as it seemed to shudder and sway onto the stage, moving at the pace of a particularly lackadaisical snail. In lots of ways it felt like a bit of a gimmick, a grand, “ta da!” moment that fell just a little bit short of what modern technology can doubtlessly offer. That said, the excitement of seeing the helicopter, and the sound effects that made the whole theatre tremble, definitely add to the production. Alistair Brammer, playing Chris, interacted seamlessly with it, in what I would say was his strongest and most evocative scene.

I really fell for Alistair Brammer as Chris, the imperfect yet well-intentioned young man still finding his way in the world, much like the women. His powerful voice held its own with Noblezada’s, evoking strong images of his enchanting Marius, but more assertive, more adult and more alluring. From the way Brammer held himself on stage and interacted with the other characters, it is plain to see why Kim and Ellen would be drawn to him, as, I think, were a lot of the audience. Unsurprisingly, Chris was very involved in the passion of the show, spending perhaps a little too much time lip-locked with Kim; there were moments when it began to feel just a little uncomfortable, and when a look or a smile could have said more than a steamy embrace. Whilst his lips were not otherwise engaged, Brammer had the unenviable task of adopting the US accent that would be fitting for his GI character. Before seeing the show, I was nervous about the accents as they can be incredibly irritating if done badly, but Brammer seems to have accomplished a tone that is convincing and consistent, complimenting his sung vocals seamlessly. Also pulling off the US accent, and echoing a lot of the comments about Brammer, Hugh Maynard returns to Miss Saigon as an older, more mature John, with such a rich, penetrating voice, and one of the strongest acting performances of the whole cast.

At this stage, the show is in its’ opening previews, so there is plenty of scope for small tweaks. Sure, the acrobats in the opening of the Ho Chi Minh scene could be more closely synchronised, there are elements of “Bui Doi” that could be refined and the deaths could be more convincing, but given this is night 2 of the previews, this has the makings of a sensational show.

Miss Saigon is definitely back, the heat is most definitely on, and nestled in the heart of Soho is a production is more than worthy of those standing ovations, night after night after night.

For tickets and information: