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'Miss Saigon' still a grand spectacle, 25 years on

6/17/2014 JILL LAWLESS , Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — "Miss Saigon" has returned to London, helicopter and all — but will it take off?

Impresario Cameron Mackintosh has revived Alain Boublil's and Claude-Michel Schonberg's musical 25 years after its debut, in a glitzy, big-budget London production that filled critics with admiration.

"Miss Saigon," a tragic Vietnam War love story inspired by Giacomo Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly," ran for a decade in London from 1989. On Broadway, it ran for 4,063 performances until 2000.

But that was another century. Now after Iraq and Afghanistan, the tale of war's tragic human consequences is still relevant — although a show in which every single female role is a sex worker might make some viewers uneasy. "Miss Saigon" has also drawn protests around the world for its depiction — some say stereotyped — of the Vietnamese.

Critics in Britain on Thursday praised the spectacle of the new production at London's Prince Edward Theatre, though some felt the show failed to touch the heart.

The Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer called it a "superbly slick, powerfully acted and splendidly sung revival," while The Guardian's Michael Billington watched it more with "professional admiration" than love.

Dominic Cavendish in The Times said it was "a powerful production of an undoubtedly melodramatic story," and praised the "sensational" Eva Noblezada, an 18-year-old making her professional stage debut as tragic heroine Kim. In the Evening Standard, Henry Hitchings hailed Noblezada's "grace and vulnerability as Kim — and a voice of piercing purity."

Cavendish also hailed the "brilliant, avaricious charm" of Jon Jon Briones as an entrepreneurial pimp, the show's charismatic ringleader.

As for that helicopter, used to recreate the fall of Saigon, most agreed its thumping rotors still set the audience's pulses racing.

"Miss Saigon" is part of a string of mega-musicals — including "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera" — that has made Mackintosh one of Britain's richest men. The show has already more than recouped its 4.5 million pound ($7.5 million) budget in ticket sales.


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