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A CurtainUp Review
Miss Saigon

We'll pick 'em clean, that's what tonight's about.
One of these boys might be your ticket out

— The Engineer in the opening number "The Heat's On" which has him primed to exploit last chance for making enough money from the Marines as the disillusioning war is about to end.

Miss Saigon
Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Miss Saigon is back at the Broadway Theater where it began its 10-year New York run in 1991. Judging from the packed theater, it might well sing Claude-Michel Schönberg's soaring melodies and wow audiences with its spectacular staging for another decade. But this production is on tour so will be in town only through mid-January before it moves on and makes jaws drop elsewhere.

Those who are too young to have seen the original probably heard about its most famous prop, the helicopter. And its image emblazoned on the cover of the current production's Playbill isn't an empty teaser. The helicopter may not be completely the real thing but with the help of projections, lighting and strong fans, it's still pretty amazing.

What's more, this Miss Saigon's designers, Totie Driver and Matt Kinley, have added several new mouth agape props to ratchet up the technical spectacle that's always been the big appeal of this show: a giant sculptural images of Ho Chi Minn backs a Viet Cong troop's military parade. . .and a similarly sized Statue of Liberty image is fronted by an all girls dance number that parallels the Viet Cong parade's military precision.

The book, a pop-operatic version of Puccini's famous Madame Butterfly, is intact. It revolves around the love affair between an American military man abroad and a native girl that ends unhappily — leaving her poor, pregnant and hoping that he will come back for her.

Miss Saigon transposed the story to the end of the misconceived Vietnam conflict. The fall of Saigon makes for a chaotic situation. The Americans look for relief from disillusion at a dive ironically named Dreamland that's run by an opportunistic pimp a.k.a. The Engineer. For him and the poor Vietnamese bar girl dancer-prostitutes America looms as a desperately yearned for haven. A scene showing the long line of immigrants desperately heading out of Saigon at the end of the first act is all too reminiscent of more desperate victims of long, useless wars we see on our TV sets daily.

There's plenty of opportunity for melodrama and big ballads in the mostly sung-through love story that drives the plot. The Miss Saigon change in setting and time are actually something of an improvement on the dated and melodramatic Madame Butterfly story. However, the show's continued big following is mostly due to the spectacle factor. Though the music is wonderfully schmaltzy and easy on the ears, it doesn't include an ear-clinging hummer to walk away with as is the case with Les Miz.

Using that spectacle factor and the quality of the singing now on stage as a baseline to judge how Miss Saigon holds up, the answer is "Yes." This is the biggest, most spectacle rich show in town. With High School Musical discovery Eva Noblezada as Kim the singing is not just good but superb. Besides going from strength to strength with each song, Ms. Noblezada sings with enough feeling to touch even the most cynical members of the audience. Thus, this Miss Saigon affords that special pleasure of seeing a really fresh new talent.

To give my "yes it holds up" a further boost, Noblezada is blessed to have the good-looking and vocally strong Alistair Brammer as her beloved Chris. Nicholas Christopher is also impressive as Chris's fellow Marine John; and so is Thuy, the man designated as Kim's husband when she was 13, though his becoming a powerful officer in Ho Chi Min's new order.

Miss Saigon
Jon Jon Briones (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Important as all these characters are to the show's narrative, visual and vocal success, the most interesting character remains its king of sleaze and manipulative survival tactics — the Engineer. Jonathan Pryce created the role to much acclaim, but there was also a big to-do about being made up to look Asian rather than being Asian. No such complaints can be leveled against the current Engineer, or for that matter this overall diverse cast.

Even those clinging to fond memories of Pryce's Engineer, will find Philippine born and raised Jon Jon Briones more than satisfying. He brings the sly, sardonic edge of the Emcee in Kander and Ebb's Cabaret to this man who thrives in the midst of the Vietnam War and, when Saigon falls, escapes and retools himself yet again. He's terrific throughout and taps into the satire of "If You Want to Die in Bed" and the penultimate "American Dream" number. That razzle dazzle number adds a real convertible car to the show's jaw dropping props. An apt and undoubtedly recent script addition about making it great again brought a big burst of laughter and applause.

With a cast of 45, this review would turn into a book if I went into a lot more details. Suffice it to say "Bravo" to the ensemble members on both the American and Vietnamese side. In the rather minor role of Chris's American wife Ellen, Katie Rose Clarke does get a nifty introduction in "Room 317" and a bran-new solo, "Maybe." Tam, Kim's three year-old son love child, is pretty much a human prop whose only task is to look adorable — which Jace Chan, one of the four alternating Tams I saw certainly is.

The musical staging and choreography by Bob Avian (with additional choreography by Geoffrey Garratt) and the Totie Driver-Matt Kinley design certainly bring out the full flavor of the flow of panoramic scenes depicting the vulgarity and chaos of the war and aftermath. Their work is splendidly supported by Andreane Neofitou 's characterizing costumes and Bruno Poet's true to his surname's lighting.

My seat close to the orchestra pit had me a bit concerned about having my ears assaulted the over-amplification common to so many musical. But my worries were unfounded. So bravo again to sound designer Mick Potter and orchestrator William David Brohn.

Though as already evident in Miss Saigon's second act, Vietnam was transformed from war zone to tourist destination. Current events make this new production as sadly timely as it is entertaining.

Note: Since the role of Kim is so vocally demandng Eva Noblezada will not doing matinees.

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • "The Heat is On in Saigon" - Soldiers, Bar Girls, The Engineer, Kim, John, Chris, Gigi, Company
  • "The Movie in My Mind" - Gigi, Kim and Girls
  • "The Transaction" - Engineer, John, Chris
  • "Why, God, Why?" - Chris
  • "This Money's Yours" - Chris and Kim
  • "Sun and Moon" - Kim and Chris
  • a
  • "Asking For Leave" - Chris and Engineer
  • "The Deal" - The Engineer and Chris
  • "The Wedding Ceremony" - Gigi, Kim, Girls and Chris
  • "Thuy's Intervention" - Thuy, Chris and Kim
  • "Last Night of the World" - Chris and Kim
  • "The Morning of the Dragon" - Engineer, Company
  • "I Still Believe" - Kim and Ellen
  • "Coo-Coo Princess" - The Engineer, Kim, Thuy and Company
  • "You Will Not Touch Him" - Thuy and Kim
  • "This is the Hour" - Chorus
  • "If You Want to Die in Bed" -Engineer
  • "I'd Give My Life For You" - Kim
  • "I'd Give My Life for You" - Kim
Act Two
  • "Bui Doi" - John and Comany
  • "What a Waste" - Engineer
  • "Too Much For One Heart" - John and Kim 
  • "Chris is Here" - The Engineer, Kim, Club Owner and John
  • "Fall of Saigon" - Thuy Chris, Kim, John and Company
  • "Sun and Moon" (Reprise) - Kim
  • "Room 317" - Kim and Ellen
  • "Maybe" - Ellen
  • "The Confrontation" - Chris, Ellen, John, Kim
  • "Paper Dragons" - Engineer and Kim
  • "The American Dream" - Engineer and Company
  • "Little God of My Dreams" - Kim

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Miss Saigon
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr, adapted from original French lyrics by Alain Boublil, with additional lyrics by Michael Mahler.
Directed by Laurence Connor
Principals in a cast of 45: Alistair Brammer (Chris), Jon Jon Briones (The Engineer), Eva Noblezada (Kim), Katie Rosie Clarke (Ellen), Nicholas Christopher (John), Devin Ilaw (Thuy) Rachelle Ann Go (Gigi), Lianah Sta.Ana (Kim at certain performances)
Musical Staging by Bob Avian and additional choreography by Geoffrey Garratt.
Production design is by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley
Design Concept by Adrian Vaux
Costume design by Andreane Neofitou
Lighting design by Bruno Poet
Sound design by Mick Potter
Projections by Luke Halls
Orchestrations by William David Brohn
Musical supervision by Stephen Brooker
Musical direction by James Moore
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including intermission.
Broadway Theater 1681 Broadway<
From 3/01/17; opening 3/23/17; closing 1/14/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 3/21/17 press preview

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