Stylistically, “Miss Saigon” is a remnant of the bombastic, spectacle-driven, opera-meets-rock English mega-musicals that conquered Broadway in the ’80s and ’90s, such as “Les Miz” and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” and “Phantom.”
But as a piece of political theater that depicts Americans involved in a disastrous foreign war, cultural misunderstanding, the difficulties of emigrating to the U.S. as a refugee and the pursuit of success through shameless exploitation, “Miss Saigon” is more relevant and heartbreaking today than when it premiered on Broadway in 1991 at the same theater.
Inspired by Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and set during the end of the Vietnam War, the musical portrays Chris (Alistair Brammer), a jaded American marine, and Kim (Eva Noblezada), a virginal Vietnamese peasant girl, who fall in love at a sleazy, ramshackle strip club but get separated during the fall of Saigon, as depicted in the musical’s famous helicopter sequence.
Three years later, Kim, who gave birth to a son, escapes to Bangkok with the help of The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones), a money-hungry former strip club owner who believes he can use Kim’s half-American child to score a green card for himself.
As directed by Laurence Connor (“School of Rock”), this solid and satisfying revival builds on the extraordinary visuals, nonstop adrenaline, sweeping emotions and pulsating musical score that characterized the original production while adding an unmissable brutality and grittiness. Fans of the musical will not be disappointed.
Briones, Noblezada and Brammer are giving high intensity performances that stand on par with their predecessors (including Lea Salonga and Jonathan Pryce).
Brammer’s Chris is fresh-faced but overwhelmed and on the verge of falling apart. Noblezada impressively shifts back and forth from polite young girl to tough and tragic heroine. Briones, as the show’s most compelling and unhinged character, is aggressive, authoritative, unpredictable and absolutely electrifying.
If you go: “Miss Saigon” runs at the Broadway Theatre through Jan. 15. 1681 Broadway, saigononbroadway.com.