Miss Saigon has been a regular favourite among theatregoers and in the 25th anniversary film showing the 2014 West End production it’s easy to see why. The musical is a high-stakes love story set in and after the Vietnam War. It also boasts an excellent score that captures the full gamut of emotions and fragility and it translates well to the silver screen.
The musical was written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil who also wrote, Les Misérables. The story is actually based on Madame Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s opera about a tragic romance. In Miss Saigon the writers have taken the leads out of Japan and placed them into Vietnam with the romance blossoming between an American soldier and an innocent, young bargirl.
Eva Noblezada makes her professional acting debut as a vulnerable, 17-year-old girl named Kim. She is orphaned and accepts a bar job in Dreamland in order to survive. This seedy establishment is run by a French-Vietnamese hustler named The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones.) He is obsessed with money and concocts a “contest” where he crowns one of his working girls, “Miss Saigon” in order to charge a larger sum and commission for her services.
Kim meets an American G.I. named Chris (the dreamy, Alistair Brammer). Kim is naïve and sweet while Chris feels a bit lost in this strange environment but he also means well. The pair soon fall in love and marry. But they are separated during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Kim is left abandoned and pregnant and Noblezada does a fine job of making the audience really feel for the character. Kim also has to negotiate through the return of her cousin (Sangwoong Jo) who had been arranged to her in marriage by her late parents. But all she hopes for is a reunion with her beloved Chris.
The staging in this modern production at London’s Prince Edward Theatre is eye-catching with a helicopter appearing above the stage during the fall of the city and some black and white photography is also shown. There is also a grittiness to the poverty the poor characters experience and it’s hard to look away. The soundtrack is also a gorgeous and emotional one and the costumes are fabulous with Kim in demure pieces that set her apart from the raunchiness of the experienced, working girls. The ensemble also wear some glittery, showgirl outfits in “The American Dream” number when The Engineer reveals his big plans to move to the States.
Miss Saigon is a powerful story boasting equally large and sensitive ballads. This dramatic tale is a moving one about love, sacrifice and hope. The adaptation to the silver screen works well with the film capturing the simmering tension of the musical with close-ups honing on and emphasising the actor’s faces. This works well for the most part but at other points it does come at the expense of enjoying the ensemble’s dancing and the scenery, but this is just a minor quibble. Miss Saigon is ultimately a beguiling, melodious and downright beautiful experience that will tug at your heartstrings and leave you misty-eyed.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The 25th Anniversary of Miss Saigon is available on DVD on November 16th.