I had been able to watch the Manila production of Miss Saigon and I remember being overwhelmed with awe and pride by the whole experience. We were all so thrilled in 1999. It was the first time that a big West End/Broadway musical would be staged in my country, produced by its real creators and not just by any local repertory theater; so we all went out to the Cultural Center of the Philippines and witnessed how a helicopter thundered in the theater and soared with the overwhelming orchestra music. It was a night to remember. Recently it popped up on youtube, but it has been really disappointing. The performance was not at its best, and Lea Salonga’s Kim lacked passion and honesty although her voice has remained strong and magical. The whole production looked shabby and inferior, and the actor who played the Engineer acted and sounded like a desperate drag queen. Well, maybe because the video did not do any justice to the performance, but still something was amiss.
Then comes this 25th Anniversary performance by a new cast led by Eva Noblezada, Alistair Brammer and Jon Jon Briones. I watched it online, and it was magnificent. Perhaps because it was strategically filmed live through the guidance of a film director so that all facial expressions, emotional nuances in the music and lyrics can be picked up and the exaggerated theatricality is toned down for cinematic effects. Nevertheless it was still fantastic, and the actors performed with truthfulness, passion and energy, particularly Eva as Kim, Alistair as Kris and the incomparable Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer – I think he surpassed the performance of Jonathan Price. Eva’s vulnerable performance as Kim was moving, and it matched that of the fiery passion of Alistair Brammer. Alistair’s realistic performance has helped the audience see and feel Kim’s tragedy through the lyrics and it has become a factual narration of experiences that many Vietnamese victims of war must have endured.
I also love the new songs – they replaced some silly lyrics with sensible ones and changed parts of the score for a more believable melody. The commercial appeal it had before is still there, but the whole production now can boast of a more profound presentation. I think I can forget Lea Salonga’s artificial approach on Kim now that Eva has emerged and improved on it, but of course no one can ever replace the magic that Lea Salonga’s voice has contributed to the perfection and artistry of Miss Saigon. But even that can be forgotten with the emergence of the newly revised production so that we can all rid of the shallow glamor blitz of showbiz and instead focus on the story, and its universal message to humanity.