Review: ‘Miss Saigon’ at Broadway Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 11 August 2017
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Never before had the planned arrival of a new musical on Broadway angered as many people and caused as many protests as “Miss Saigon” did when it arrived from the West End in 1991. It brought with it two stars, English actor Jonathan Pryce, who in London wore prosthetics to alter the shape of his eyes and makeup to change the color of his skin, and Filipino actress Lea Salonga, both playing roles that Asian-American performers felt should have been theirs. It also brought with it a gratuitous although somewhat memorable helicopter scene that probably felt right back in the day when musicals such as “Phantom” employed similar shtick, such as a falling chandelier.

Now the helicopter musical is back on Broadway. Based on Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly” and developed by the team of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, who also created “Les Miserables,” the story takes place towards the end of the Vietnam War as the United States was packing up and evacuating the capital.

The Broadway Theatre, although smaller than the Theater Royal, Drury Lane, which seats almost 2,200 and which is where “Miss Saigon” opened in London, is one of Broadway’s largest and it’s no surprise that the revival, replete with helicopter, ended up here.

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Jon Jon Briones is the Engineer, the role Jonathan Pryce originated, while newcomer Eva Noblezada, spotted by a New York casting director at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in 2013, is Kim. Kim is a wide-eyed 17-year-old virgin from whatever remained of the Vietnamese countryside who, without any other offers of employment, finds herself working as a prostitute at Dreamland in Saigon, managed by the Engineer.

The Engineer, as the name implies, goes about life engineering things. He’s a fixer, a go-getter, a scoundrel, and a sewer rat. His loyalties are questionable and, like the cockroach that he is, would probably survive a nuclear blast.

Mr. Briones as the Engineer is Mr. Pryce’s equal albeit with greater authenticity and sleaziness, while Ms. Noblezada was impressive as Kim, when the orchestra wasn’t occasionally drowning her out.

Alistair Brammer, the hunky American G.I. Chris, who plans to take Kim away from the devastated city, and Ellen (Katie Rose Clarke), his perky blonde wife, give performances that would have been more at home in “Glee” than on the Broadway stage. Nicholas Christopher as John, Chris’s levelheaded best friend, and Devin Ilaw, as Thuy, Kim’s intended, fare far better. Understudy Ericka Hunter as Gigi, another bargirl at Dreamland, was the one disappointment for the evening.

Mr. Schonberg’s score brought back fond memories of my first time seeing the show some 20 years earlier, as did the appearance of a big white Cadillac in the one true showstopper in the show, “The American Dream.” Based on the audience’s reception, it may do this for you, too.

THE DETAILS

Miss Saigon
Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway
New York, N.Y. 10019
Runtime: 2 hours and 40 minutes
www.saigonbroadway.com

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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