I am not sure it will ever be possible to stage a production of Miss Saigon that is better than the revival closing on Broadway this week. Extraordinarily well-directed by Laurence Connor (School of Rock, Les Miserables), this musical was riveting from start to finish. I remember the original production which I saw in 1993 and liked. The show still suffers (slightly) from the singing every line overkill typical of Broadway during this period. But it soars so high from the glorious voices of its cast to the dramatic staging, scenery, lighting and focused commitment to storytelling.
What does extraordinarily well directed even mean? The musical opens in Dreamland, a Saigon whorehouse in 1975 frequented by American soldiers during the Vietnam War and run by The Engineer (a superb Jon Jon Briones whose 11:00 number, The American Dream, surpassed my memory of the original). With a huge ensemble cast, every Marine and Bar Girl on stage has a reason to be there. You can see and follow lots of individualized stories going on amidst the seedy action and tensions. This is not a chorus standing around to fill space, these are all actors embodying the scene. Greatness is usually in the details and this Miss Saigon has them all covered.
Eva Noblezada plays Kim, forced into The Engineer’s service after her family was murdered and meets Chris (Alistair Brammer, excellent), a soldier stationed in Saigon. An updated version of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, what follows is a doomed romance of an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. Ms. Noblezada was simply astonishing. The beauty and clarity of her voice in combination with an exceptionally dramatic face fully conveyed the anquish, hope, fear and dreams of Kim. I loved this production. Yes, Miss Saigon is melodrama combined with its famous helicopter scene. But when the blades are rotating and the breezes are literally blowing, it’s Broadway magic.