Miss Saigon

Book and music by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr and Alain Boublil

Prince Edward Theatre

From 03 May 2014 to 25 October 2014

Review by Philip Fisher

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The latest big budget musical to arrive in the West End is an old favourite. Producer Cameron Mackintosh obviously believes that, rather than a movie conversion or star vehicle, bringing back an old hit is the way to guarantee success.

He could be right, as the musical written by the team behind Les Misérables and using a plot plundered from Madame Butterfly has already proved itself a global crowd-pleaser running for 10 years in both London and New York.

This revival takes some time to spark as we follow the exploits of Alistair Brammer as Chris, a GI in Vietnam c. 1975, and Kim, a 17-year-old war orphan driven to sell her body to stay alive.

Two other figures seem set to haunt the life of young Kim rendered with suitable innocence by Eva Noblezada. First there is strip joint manager Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer, who gets all of the evening's comedy moments and its only gags. Then, as Chris professes true love, the tryst is interrupted by Thuy, the man to whom the girl was promised when barely a teenager.

Chris is too good to be true, somewhat apologetically saving the innocent Kim from a fate worse than death following a night of passion and getting close to taking her home as the Americans are forced to evacuate Saigon at very short notice. Their separation is shown in a moving scene in flashback as all hell breaks loose in the South Vietnamese capital.

The set-up takes rather a long time and needs something special when the action moves on to justify the expense and a running time just shy of three hours.

It duly arrives in memorable fashion. First, we move on four years by which time Saigon has been transformed into Communist Ho Chi Minh City, complete with agile acrobats and an over-sized bust of the great man.

This livens proceedings up and they take off as spectacularly as the obligatory helicopter (a computerised 3D image sharing proceedings with the real thing looking a little too much like a van with propellers but still taking the breath away).

By this stage, the pathos has reached fever pitch, as poor Kim has become a mother of the sweetest little tot. In league with sleazy Engineer, she is desperate to get to America, where servicemen led by Hugh Maynard playing Chris's Army buddy John sing poignantly of the "Bui Doi" or half-caste children left behind to face prejudice and unhappiness.

While Chris might still love Kim, he marries Tamsin Carroll's Ellen, who sports the best voice of the evening and a heart of gold.

From then on, there are multiple tugs of love, leading to the evening's edgiest song, "The Confrontation". Chris is compromised by his passion for two women, Kim is caught between love for the man who saved her and for her son, while the Engineer is tied to his search for the "American Dream", to which he pays homage at inordinate length in what is the musical's catchiest song by some way.

It may not be the very best that London has to offer but with a tear jerking story, a big reputation and lashings of spectacle, there seems every chance that Miss Saigon can fill the Prince Edward Theatre for a long time, as it did Drury Lane through the 90s.