Miss Saigon: timely, but the love story is less captivating than the war story
- Kelly Apter
- 13 February 2018
Strong vocal performances and a heart in the right place can't compensate for a lack of memorable songs
It's 43 years since the war in Vietnam ended, and 29 years since Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's musical about the mess left behind first hit the stage. A lot of time, therefore, for the public to forget about the devastation the 20-year conflict brought about.
So this revival scores a point for reminding modern-day audiences that outsiders arriving in a foreign land, mis-using it, then buggering off, is nothing new. And the moments when Miss Saigon focuses on the political agenda are genuinely captivating – whether it's a stunning helicopter flight, a tightly synchronised street parade in Ho Chi Minh City or emotive real-life photographs of orphans abandoned by mothers similarly abandoned by their GI sweethearts. The lyrics sung by those GIs, now returned to their homeland, highlight the real issue here: 'Conceived in hell and born in strife, they are the living reminders of all the good we failed to do.'
But Miss Saigon is based on Puccini's Madame Butterfly, not Apocalypse Now, so it's love, not war that's the focus. Specifically the ill-fated relationship between Kim, a 17-year-old virgin and John, a soldier that's been around the block. Their fall is quick and hard, and therefore difficult to truly believe in, while the gyrating prostitutes she works alongside feel stereotypical and unnecessarily sleazy.
Schönberg and Boublil's other big hit Les Miserables has run continuously since 1985, largely because every note in it is a priceless gem – sadly, despite strong vocal performances throughout, nothing in Miss Saigon comes close.
Edinburgh Festival Theatre, until Sat 17 Feb.