Monday, October 2, 2017

Miss Saigon (Broadway)

SAIGON, 1975. A young and naïve Kim (Eva Noblezada) arrives in American-occupied Saigon to flee the Vietkong controlling the north. Clueless and in need to survive, she is taken in by the Engineer (Marcus Choi), a pimp cashing in on soldiers’ lust by providing them the women that they require. The newbie’s innocence catches a GI off-guard. Depressed and wanting no more than to go back home and leave the atrocities of war behind him, Chris (Alistair Brammer) is reluctant to fall in love, but finds in her the one thing real and beautiful in a nation ravaged by two conflicting ideologies. Love during times of regime change is always an exciting and inspiring story, but can they really have a happy ending when they are forced to live oceans apart?

I remember being so desperate to watch Miss Saigon that when a Thai theater company decided to adapt it for a local run in Bangkok, I immediately flew to see it. You know a musical is that good when you don’t understand a single word being said or sung but it gets you teary-eyed and choked up nonetheless, or perhaps it’s because I knew most of the songs by heart and already had a clue what was happening? When you finally get to experience such show in a language that you actually understand, it just hits home.

For the unacquainted, “The American Dream” and “The Morning of the Dragon” combo should be enough of a titillating audiovisual treat to grab your attention. “The Heat Is on in Saigon” is also supposed to do that early on but for the staging tonight, it somehow lacked the oomph. As for the duets, “Sun and Moon” and “The Last Night of the World” are the prohibitive favorites, but Kim and Ellen’s “I Still Believe” is also a force to reckon with, especially with that juxtaposition onstage, as well as the irony of the entire situation that both ladies are in.

There’s something about Brammer tonight. His singing was a bit throaty and you feel like he could give something more but, for whatever reason, is holding back. Singing his duets with Noblezada, it felt like a struggle on his part. There were also instances when he seemed to be chasing the orchestra. In any case, he makes up for it in “The Confrontation” where you can just see how his face erupts in a mix of repressed emotions leading up to that moment, the power of his voice finally making its presence felt.

EVA NOBLEZADA IS EFFORTLESS. One couldn’t help but have doubts when the West End revival teasers finally went public. After all, nobody does it better than Lea Salonga. The kid obviously had huge shoes to fill. But WOW, every high note hit and each vibrato sustained just feels like heaven, it makes you want to cry. It’s been a while since the London production packed up and settled across the Atlantic. Like fine wine, Noblezada simply gets better with age. She could probably do an entire show now with her eyes shut. That Tony nomination is well-deserved. She upstaged everyone tonight, including the Engineer.

Call it a personal bias, but I was expecting Go and Briones as Gigi and the Engineer, respectively. Realizing that they weren’t going to reprise their roles in tonight’s production raised some red flags. Dorcas Leung nails the sexuality and the angst alright but what was supposed to be her shining moment, “The Movie in My Mind,” just didn’t make much of an impact. That’s weird, because it always does. As for Choi, he was off to a rocky start, the orchestra overpowering him at some point. The good thing about the Engineer, though, is that he always finds a way to make you like him. For Choi, that came once he began belting his swan song, the ever glitzy and larger-than-life, “The American Dream.”

Devin Ilaw is impressive as Thuy. He provides the depth necessary for you not to hate the character. He holds his own against Noblezada and actually manages to elicit some sympathy despite being the antagonist. Katie Rose Clarke as Ellen also deserves some kudos. Playing the role of the third party is tough and the haters are going to hate on you by default. What’s new in this revival is that Ellen gets a solo song, “Maybe,” which gives us more than a peek into the thoughts inside her head. After all, she is also just a victim of circumstance here, is she not? In this regard, you just can’t hate either Thuy or Ellen, which simply means that the actors playing them gave justice to the roles.

“They’re called Bui Doi. The dust of life. Conceived in hell, and born in strife.” “Bui Doi” remains to be my personal favorite. The video montage of children further intensifies its intended dramatic effect because it makes you realize how its message will always be timely and relevant anywhere in the world where people have to suffer and fight for the fundamental right to live and survive. “They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do, because we know deep in our hearts that they are all our children too.”

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