I am a Broadway super fan, everyone knows that. But I am a Miss Saigon duper duper fan, if such a thing exists. It is one show I truly love – I know every word of its score, and it is the one musical I have seen probably close to fifty times. I am at that age now when I see a show that gets a revival, I can say “I saw that when it first came out’ But yes, I did see Miss Saigon in 19189 with the Original London Cast, and in 1991, with its original Broadway cast. So yeah, the show and I have major history.
When I saw the London Revival Cast in 2014, I was, again, awed by the show, though if I must be honest, the scaled-down production seemed just a tad cheap compared to its earlier production. But, it worked well with what it got. There were some changes that annoyed me, but all in all, I think it got right everything that needed to be improved from the original.
So here we are, and that production has been filmed for theatrical cinema release. This performance was from September 22, 2014, and I realized that I saw the show three days before they filmed this. (I found out that the film version was culled from a couple of performances) The big ‘get’ from this release is that it was filmed on its 25th Anniversary, and on that night, original cast members Jonathan Pryce, Lea Salonga, and Simon Bowman show up to ‘celebrate.’
But first, the show. I was kind of skeptical about this film, because, really, one can never capture the energy and heart of a live performance on film. But about five minutes into a film, I realized that this was thought of as a film, and it is astonishingly brilliant. We get closeups, and strategic camera angles that draw us in vividly into the story. The staging, frankly, is almost non-existent, and the frame is brought out enough to make the show cinematic. You never feel caged in, and you will notice details you never would have thought of if you were watching this on stage. (Did you know Kim holds Chris’s name plate while they sing ‘Sun And Moon?’) And the performances feel even more intimate – Eva Noblezada is a wonder – her subtlety here is even more powerful – and the pain in her eyes is more piercing. Alistair Brammer is photogenic, and their love is bigger, more brilliant, so it consequence is more painful. The engineer’s role is a stage conceit, and Jon Jon Briones’ big performance is dwarfed here, and suffers, but you still get it. This is still the show, and I even told myself, after all these years, after all these performances, this is still a piece that never fails to make me cry. Again, I wept. When Pryce and Salonga show up after the curtain, you get swept into a fine air of nostalgia.
In a lot of cases, the film is even bigger than the show. On screen, its flaws are masked by the medium’s slickness. This ‘capture’ is excellent, and I suspect, will be a template for future stage-to-screen transitions.