Monday, 12 October 2015

miss saigon

On Thursday 3 September - the second-last day of the school holidays - the younger generation and I went to a matinee of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre. My parents saw it many years ago in its full run, when it featured Jonathan Pryce and, I presume, a more extravagantly-staged helicopter scene, since it was often mentioned and didn't seem particularly fancy in this one (a shorter, revival run).

The two main roles, the Engineer and Kim, were played by two different people, but there didn't seem to be any indication which was performing at our performance, which I take to mean that it was the primary person - Jon Jon Briones (it was definitely him) and Eva Noblezada respectively. (The programme did come with an insert that indicated that Ellen was being played by a new cast member, Carolyn Maitland, rather than Siobhan Dillon.)

So much of the setting and plot was pretty sordid. I wasn't at all impressed with the songs, either music or lyrics, although they were sung (and danced) perfectly well. The use of recitative (is that the right word? Through-sung?) I don't like in musicals, where I think it's an attempted indicator that this is higher art than 'ordinary' musicals and more like the opera form to which it aspires in artistic status (and in which I don't like recitative either). It's also miserable, which also perhaps reflects its seeking after high art status, since obviously nothing cheery can be high art. The number I enjoyed most was the unaccompanied male chorus song at the start of the second half, although the song itself was unremarkable, and it also served as a reminder of how most of the musical (like many other musicals and operas) was just a sequence of solo performances.

And while I'm not keen on tragedies in general, it was my least favourite kind of tragedy, the infuriating kind in which tragedy could be averted by one simple conversation; a bit more communication and a bit less acting on jumped-to conclusions: that's not tragedy, that's stupidity.

I really didn't like it. The younger generation did like it: I'm not sure why, in particular, other than getting to see a big, non-family musical. She had been listening regularly to a CD of the songs which happened to be in the holiday home we'd been staying in not long before.

Yet again I feel sorry for, and rather mystified by, people whose annual or holiday theatre trip is to a big West End musical. They have consistently provided my least satisfying theatre experiences, and I continue to be surprised that they're so popular. Spectacle? Undemanding entertainment? It's just what's expected of you to do? I have to say it's often a sense of obligation that takes me to these, the idea that I really should see what all the fuss is about, especially when they've run a long time. I never saw Cats, in the end. I do intend to see Phantom of the Opera, eventually...

Some reviews of this revival production (mostly from May 2014, when it opened; it runs into next year, when it goes on overseas tour) from the first two pages of Google results (interestingly, more ticket-selling sites manage to get their pages in among the reviews than in my usual review searches). Telegraph (I see instantly it was a different actor playing Chris, the main US GI character, then). Guardian. London Theatreland (suspect this more a ticket-selling site than a reviewing site). LondonTheatre. Evening Standard. LondonTheatreDirect (another ticket-selling site, another glowing review...). Daily Mail. Independent. What's On Stage. Time Out. Financial Times. BritishTheatre. A mixed bag, but very much tending to the positive.