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Review: Miss Saigon at London's Prince Edward Theatre

The ravishing new production of the classic musical soars back into the West End...


During the overture of Cameron Mackintosh's new production of this now classic 1989 musical, a solo spotlight from atop the theatre lights our heroine in a bright white beam. From this simple lighting queue to the dramatic and emotional finale, my eyes, with all the spectacle, costumes sets and hunky soldiers that come between, never left this girl. Eva
Noblezada as Kim is the true star of the show, and that's as it should be. She really is Miss Saigon.

This 18-year-old American actress, who was plucked from the states and has been dropped into the middle of one of what is undoubtedly the West End's biggest shows ever, has the emotional gravity of a Vanessa Redgrave or a Judi Dench, and with a singing voice so pure it cuts right to your soul. Noblezada breaks your heart and pulls you on this euphoric and heartbreaking ride. I could've happily watched her sing this score in a black box and been almost as satisfied as I was this evening.

That said, the spectacle and cast surrounding Kim make the evening better and better, and when you think there's nothing left to give you are blown away by more, and more, and just to be safe... more.

Alistair Brammer as Chris provides a good, strong and emotional leading man. His 'Why God' rendition is charged with passion, remorse and love and makes this somewhat overdone song fresh once more. Having played several roles around the West End it's nice to see him head up such a big production. With his leading man looks, hefty chest, and the vocal range to match, expect to see lots more from this young man.

As the engineer Jon Jon Briones relishes his role, that he's played more often than Carol Channing has played Dolly Levi, with a delight that is invigorating to watch, and after his years portraying, still feels like a first night. He is owning that stage every second he's in the footlights, providing the much needed comic relief but not afraid to delve deep and
bring out the raw emotion. It's exciting, and refreshing, to see what is essentially a comic role have such depth and truth to it.

The 11 o'clock number, American Dream, is bigger and better than ever and whips the audience into a frenzy, it really is one of the great musical numbers British theatre ever written, but for me the more exciting number, and intriguing performance-wise, from Mr Briones comes from 'If you want to die in bed', which gives us another sleazy look tbehind this character survival and motivation.

Special mention must go to Tamsin Carroll as Elllen who, whilst onstage the least out of the principal players, hits us with such a gut wrenching punch it's hard not to expect her shelves to be filling up with 'Best Supporting Actress' gongs before too long. The 'new' song 'maybe', performed here for the first time in English shows this strong American woman's vulnerably, but misses the force of the now absent 'Now That I've Seen Her'.

Hugh Maynard reprises the role of John, which he performed in the 2004 UK tour, and opens act two with a stunning and soul stirring rendition of Bui Doi, which could've lasted for a good hour in itself and the audience would've lapped it up. One too couldn't help but wish for more from Rachelle Ann Go after her beautiful vocals in Movie in my Mind.

The sets are credited to three people (Matt Kinkey, Totie Driver and Adrian Vaux) and are of a scale out of this world. They encompass the action in a way that make you believe you are there with the characters, yet don't distract from them. They enhance the filmic quality that has always been present in the score and staging and make you wonder when Sir Mackintosh will hurry up and make a film from this. It's a true triumph of design and building, and it's nice to see where the, not too cheap, ticket money being spent and on show. The helicopter, which everyone wants to know about, is heart stopping and induces excitement from the first distant sound of the chopper coming in to land- the enhancements and effects are, to use this word as was intended, awesome.

The show, based on Madame Butterfly, has aged incredibly well, it's emotional resonance seems to hit home now, even though Vietnam would be nothing more than a page in a history book for most audience members now. The fights of these protagonists are relevant to the fights of many across the world looking for equality, peace and somewhere to call home.
There's a few minor changes in orchestrations that, under the lead of Alfonso Casado Trigo, make Boubil & Schonberg's finest score soar. If this production, shaped magnificently by director Laurence Connor, and superb cast is not preserved for all to hear on a new cast recoding then it's a crying shame.

This new production of Miss Saigon is one of those rare evenings you find in London, it's an emotional journey that rivals some of the best plays, is full of young and exciting talent, and dazzles from start to finish. Long live Miss Saigon!

Miss Saigon is running at the Prince Edward Theatre, Old Compton St, London, booking into 2015. For more information please visit www.miss-saigon.com.

Words Christopher Clegg

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