‘Miss Saigon’ cast earns raves in grittier Broadway revival
LOS ANGELES—The “Miss Saigon” West End revival impressed us, so when we recently walked into the Broadway Theatre to see the New York production with the same four leads, we thought it would be just a déjà vu experience. We were wrong.
This Broadway revival is richer, fuller and definitely more satisfying. That’s saying a lot because the London production and performances were topnotch. But the actors who are reprising their roles—Jon Jon Briones (The Engineer), Eva Noblezada (Kim), Alistair Brammer (Chris) and Rachelle Ann Go (Gigi)—are even better here.
The critics, in general, are also responding enthusiastically to the cast.
On the Saturday evening performance we caught, the audience showed its appreciation of the performances with loud cheers, vigorous applause and, at curtain call, a boisterous standing ovation.
With writer-director Senedy Que, visiting from Manila and on a Broadway theater-watching binge, we went backstage to congratulate the cast and waited in the wings.
Sans his red jacket, python pants, long wig and gold necklace, Jon Jon was hardly recognized by the awaiting guests.
Looking dapper in a slim gray ensemble, Jon Jon was his usual humble self, a far cry from the flamboyant, Cadillac-humping pimp he was just a few minutes ago.
In the show’s 11 o’clock number, “The American Dream,” Jon Jon owned the stage and Broadway. The actor gave a more nuanced, deeper interpretation of this razzle-dazzle number. He also imbued The Engineer with more humanity throughout the show.
But surprise, after that showstopper, Jon Jon elicited more laughs and claps when he blurted, as the ensemble left the stage, “Hey, where are you going? We can make it great again!” The audience roared in amusement over this ironic reference to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
Eva was immediately besieged with requests to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the guests. Watching Eva deliver one complex song after another made us appreciate her voice and talent even more.
It is to Rachelle’s credit that even amid all the spectacle and large cast, she manages to stand out. Her powerful voice is often cited by the show’s reviewers. We can’t wait to watch Rachelle as Eliza in the London debut of “Hamilton” in December.
Of the new members of the cast, Filipino-American Devin Ilaw, as Thuy, is the one being uniformly praised by the critics.
Here are excerpts from some reviews:
Variety’s Marilyn Stasio wrote, “‘They say Saigon has weeks,’ speculates The Engineer (Briones, flat-out brilliant), the vile but discerning pimp who runs Dreamland. ‘I say it’s time to pack.’ And just wait for his big getaway in ‘The American Dream,’ a show-stopper—and a career-maker for Briones.”
Stasio praised “the entrancing Noblezada, who won the role at the age of 17.”
The Variety critic also declared, “…one of the many bar girls, Go’s touching Gigi, makes a strong impression. Chris’ best friend, John, also makes his presence seen, heard and known, in a strong performance by Nicholas Christopher. And Ilaw is both pitiful and threatening as Thuy, Kim’s rejected suitor from her village.”
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter opined, “…The love story … is grounded with transfixing emotional transparency by the exquisite Noblezada as Kim … For a start, Noblezada easily passes for a teenager; secondly, her vocals have an expressive range and sweetness that cut through all the noise and busy-ness that surrounds her. She’s a legitimate discovery, just as Lea Salonga was the first time around.
“The Engineer is played here by talented Filipino actor Briones … who makes the avaricious fixer his own … But despite his leering eyes, lascivious gestures and snake-like moves, the wiry Briones also humanizes the dissolute character.
“In addition to the leads, there are strong vocals from Go as bar girl Gigi (‘the sex toy from Hanoi’), who pairs beautifully with Noblezada on ‘The Movie in My Mind’ and the touching ‘Wedding Ceremony’; Ilaw as Thuy, the cousin to whom Kim was promised in marriage, who becomes a commissar in the People’s Army; Katie Rose Clarke as Chris’ well-meaning American wife, and Christopher as his Marine buddy, John.”
Broadway World’s Michael Dale penned: “Strong performances keep the proceedings stimulating, particularly that of Briones, especially charismatic as The Engineer … While the role’s award-winning originator, Jonathan Pryce, gave a flashy, highly stylized performance, there’s a great deal more humanity in Briones’ take. Yes, The Engineer is abusive to the women in his employ, but Briones’ also shows him as a desperate survivor whose motivation for anything is to somehow gain passage to America.
“Powerfully voiced Noblezada combines sensitive nobility and naiveté as Kim, and Brammer’s rocker-belting Chris effectively displays the steady growth of posttraumatic stress disorder developed from his wartime experiences.”
This was the verdict of Entertainment Weekly’s Breanne L. Heldman: “Noblezada, this production’s Kim, makes her Broadway debut and is probably the show’s biggest wow (sorry, helicopter). Her voice doesn’t falter as she rips through power ballad after power ballad. Her Chris, Brammer, is solid if a bit outperformed by his costars.”
The New York Times’ Ben Brantley hailed “the hard and dedicated work of its earnest cast, which includes a slithery Briones as an enterprising Vietnamese pimp, a dewy Noblezada as a heroic country girl, and Brammer as the American soldier who loves and leaves her.
“Christopher as Chris’ best friend and Go as a whore on the move have a bit more individuality. Ilaw, as Kim’s nasty betrothed, is the show’s strongest singer, and his talent survives even an echo chamber effect for his final appearance.”
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