Book/Lyrics: Alain Boublil
Concept/Book/Music: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
Since May of this year, London has been abuzz with a solidly successful revival of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s 1989 hit Miss Saigon. Starring fresh-from-high-school American actress Eva Noblezada as Kim and West End darling Alastair Brammer as GI love interest Chris, this fresh, international cast can now be heard on a live cast recording from the Prince Edward Theatre.
The album blazes into being with the show’s spine-tingling Overture, and it’s all fabulous light and shade from there. It’s somewhat curiously named ‘The Definitive Live Recording,’ due to, one suspects, the many lyric and score changes demanded by the writers in this production producing a ‘perfect’ version, rather than the calibre of cast. It is a strong cast, but original Kim Lea Salonga is a hard voice to top, with Noblezada having a squarer and less sparkling interpretation of the notes, and the original cast recording stands up as an incredibly strong album. The choice of Korean musical theatre star Kwang Ho-Hong as the sinister Thuy means his accent is thick and lyrics not always impactful, and the constant lyric tweaks may annoy hardcore fans of the show.
That said, vocals are near flawless, with Noblezada giving a gutsier, less Disney-fied Kim and Alastair Brammer refreshingly youthful and unaffected as her leading man. There’s no performance-recording breathlessness, and a fresh beauty is brought to Sun and Moon and the dreamlike Wedding Ceremony. Jon Jon Briones is a true highlight as the Engineer, adding his quippy ad libs to the proceedings and bringing a new focus to this savvy, sleazy narrator figure. Act Two’s Too Much For One Heart brings a culled number back from the original score (mashing it up with Please, the version used for the original cast), so it’s an interesting lesson in the patchwork process of creating a musical.
Added song Maybe for the character Ellen in Act Two is a low point, falling into schmaltz and cliche; going on this and the Les Miserables film it seems Boublil and Schonberg do not specialise in adding strong songs to existing scores. Noblezada’s more youthful sound somehow makes the ending seem more realistic and poignant than the original, and each track has that valuable live ‘feel’. Whether ‘definitive’ or not, this cast recording is an essential part of any Miss Saigon fans collection and will not disappoint.
Miss Saigon: The Definitive Live Recording is out now.