Loud. Action-packed. Crude. No, I haven’t switched careers and begun reviewing Marvel movies; these same adjectives apply (unfortunately) to Laurence Connor’s bombastic revival of the 1990s megahit “Miss Saigon,” now back at its original home, The Broadway Theatre, for a limited run.
I had hoped time (and a new director) would be kinder to this ersatz re-working of “Madame Butterfly” by the team behind the far superior “Les Miserables” (Claude-Michel Schoenberg, Alain Boublil, and Richard Maltby, Jr.). But no such luck. The ballad-heavy score remains, for the most part, slightly soporific; the Vietnam-era-set libretto is both melodramatic and sometimes offensive (could we meet one Asian woman who isn’t a prostitute?), and Connor’s direction – along with Bob Avian’s musical staging – favors assaulting the senses whenever possible. That means the famed helicopter is bigger and more realistic than before. And the entire first act somehow seems livelier, in part due to its complete lack of subtlety.
But the only real reason to even consider seeing this show are the outstanding performances from the three leads (all of whom came directly from the recent lauded London revival). Just as the role of Kim made an international star of Lea Salonga, it could do the same for 21-year-old Eva Noblezada. She perfectly captures the headstrong yet romantic spirit of this naive Asian girl, unwittingly forced into prostitution after fleeing her hometown and her intended husband, Thuy (a very good Devin Ilaw), and who then longs for a life in America with Chris (Alastair Brammer), the American G.I. whom she “marries” in a make-do ceremony after their first one-night stand. (Spoiler alert: Chris doesn’t find out about the child they’ve conceived until Act II.)
Brammer, the very definition of the word “hunk,” brings great conviction to the often thankless role of Chris, who sincerely tries to get Kim out of war-torn Vietnam and is haunted by his failure to do so, even after he’s safely back home in Atlanta and married to the devoted Ellen (the appealing Katie Rose Clarke, given little to do). He does a stand-out job on the show’s most soaring solo, “Why God Why” and generates true chemistry with Noblezada, both in their acting scenes together and while duetting on the rather insipid “Sun and Moon” and “The Last Night of the World.”
Still, the show’s most inspired performance comes from Jon Jon Briones as the wily “Engineer,” a man only out for himself despite some not very convincing protestations. (He’s really just a pimp with a fancier sobriquet). The petite yet charismatic Briones consistently commands the vast stage and makes an entire three-course-meal out of his satiric 11 o’clock song-and-dancefest “The American Dream” (which like much of this show has been slightly tarted up as if more really is better than less).
Admittedly, I suspect the crowds may still eat up this misbegotten musical, but I found a second helping of this show awfully hard to swallow.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Eva Noblezada, Jon Jon Briones, Alistair Brammer, Katie Rose Clarke, Rachel Ann Go, Devin Ilaw, Nicholas Christopher
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/1/2017
New York, NY 10019