In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the Broadway revival of Miss Saigon. Here’s an excerpt.
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“Miss Saigon,” in which Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, the makers of “Les Misérables,” turned “Madame Butterfly” into a mega-budget musical, is back on Broadway for the first time since 2001. Then as now, the first thing people mention whenever they talk about “Miss Saigon” is the helicopter. Rightly so, too, for that now-legendary onstage prop, the deus ex machina that rescues the show’s sort-of-antihero, was Broadway’s Giant Rubber Shark. It remains to this day a symbol of the scenic excesses of the imported West End musical extravaganzas of the ’80s, which did to the Broadway musical what “Jaws” did to Hollywood movies….
How does “Miss Saigon” look and sound today? Well, there’s still a helicopter, and if you like fake helicopters, this one is way big, way loud and—I can’t deny it—way cool. On the other hand, the Asian characters are all played this time around by actors of Asian descent, for “woke” progressives now look upon “yellowface,” as the casting of white actors in Asian roles has come to be called, as an unpardonable sin. In addition, other small changes, none of which you’ll notice unless you look really hard, have been made to bring the show into line with latter-day ethnic sensitivities. Otherwise, it’s the same old “Miss Saigon,” a two-hour-and-40-minute pop opera in which the well-worn ugly-American plot of “Madame Butterfly” (an American soldier meets, falls in love with and impregnates an Asian prostitute, then returns home and marries a white woman, not knowing that he has left behind a mixed-race child) is updated and transplanted from Japan to Vietnam in order to portray the defeat of U.S. power in southeast Asia.
I became a drama critic two years after “Miss Saigon” closed on Broadway, and I’ve never had any occasion to seek it out since then. I came fresh to it, just as I came fresh to “Les Miz” when I saw and panned the 2006 Broadway revival. Alas, I feel pretty much the same way about “Miss Saigon.” Like “Les Miz,” it’s an opera for the tone-deaf: The dramatic gestures are broad and banal and the faux-rock songs are exercises in louder-is-betterness whose tunes go round and round in tight little circles of melodic monotony….
Laurence Connor, the director, and Totie Driver and Matt Kinley, the production designers, have served the show faithfully and well, while Alistair Brammer, Jon Jon Briones and Eva Noblezada, all of whom previously starred in the London run, give effective performances. I suppose it wouldn’t be fair to hold against any of them the fact that “Miss Saigon” and its predecessors hollowed out the Broadway musical as a creative enterprise by replacing theatrical imagination with top-dollar spectacle. They’re just—you might say—following orders….
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Read the whole thing here.