Criticisms of the 2017 “Miss Saigon” Broadway Revival
Eva Noblezada (Kim) and Alistair Brammer (Chris) gave a performance that I wasn’t expecting.
Miss Saigon had been a musical that I have wanted to see for years, starting with how both of my parents gushed over it. I was disappointed last year when Fathom Events for Regal Cinemas didn’t have any showings for the production near me. When I stayed in New York City for a week at the end of June, I knew it would be the perfect time to see the revival.
Priding myself on being frugal, I was disappointed with myself when I forgot that Miss Saigon started at 8 pm, not 7 pm, as my boyfriend and I stopped by the box office around 6:40 pm, hoping for last-minute discounted tickets. (We did get decent seats for $39 each — and as the teller emphasized to me, $39, not $40.) Leading up to this night, I had been wanting to check right before the show started to see if they offered a good discount, thinking that I would be risking sold out tickets in my conquest for a discount. Around 7:45, we entered the theater.
Unlike other Broadway theaters, the Broadway Theatre is what I would expect a theater on Broadway to look like. The venues I have been to, for the most part, are unspectacular, despite Broadway’s high-class and commercial appeal. The Broadway Theatre’s interior was grand, albeit not as beautiful as some regional theaters’. Nevertheless, the grading of the seats were right on par with other Broadway theaters, as in God forbid if someone your height or taller sits in front of you. The stage itself was enormous — not what I would expect for theatre. Apart from it being its own spectacle, it worked well for this particular show. The sets were gorgeous, practical, and were neatly emphasized by the vastness of the stage. Right before the show started, I noticed that rows upon rows behind me were empty. I didn’t take that to be a good sign.
Starting off, I was blown away by the cohesiveness of the ensemble. “If they are this good,” I thought, “then the leads must be amazing.” By the time Eva Noblezada appeared, I was confused by what I was seeing.
Here was this young woman with a voice of an angel standing onstage, and I could hardly believe that her voice was real. However, she was just standing there. I didn’t feel a connection between the woman who was singing and the lines that were being sung. I hoped that this was just a character choice — Kim, a reserved, grounded individual. But as time went on, I realized that her stale performance was truly rooted in inauthenticity. One of the only times I felt that Noblezada became rooted in her performance was when she interacted with or around Tam, her character’s son. From what I saw, I was surprised that she was nominated for a Tony — a further surprise considering her competition were musical veterans such as Patti LuPone and Bette Midler (who won).
Chris, portrayed by Alistair Brammer, lacked the same spark, and unlike Noblezada, his singing voice didn’t punch the same power. (While he did have a nice voice, it seemed so small in a theater so big.) Both characters, especially Chris, seemed to be stuck in time throughout the performance. He may have worn different costumes, but he still looked like an innocent, young man. In other words, I believe Brammer was entirely miscast for this role. There was something realistic about having such a real, young-looking actor, but between his lines of cynicism, hints of a struggle with PTSD, and his deliverance with his composure, I would not for a second believe that this actor has had any real-life experience to come even close to what Chris has gone through.
Watching Noblezada and Brammer sing, whether individually or together, was like trying to feign interest in a barely adequate high school recital. Together, their chemistry was as bland as their acting performances. It can be hard to discern whether or not problems within a play stem from the production or the script, but in this case, I feel that it was the latter. Sure, their romance happened in a blink of an eye, but the lack of connection was what made me have to force myself to accept this unfortunate conclusion. I tried to imagine different actors as Kim and Chris, and I believe that both Brammer and Noblezada were just not right for their roles. As a result of my forced interest in the romance — having to go off of assembling the script in my head rather than enjoying the actor portrayals — the ending was not as powerful as it was supposed to be.
The best performance by a lead was the Engineer. His performance outshone Noblezada’s and Brammer’s, which shouldn’t have been the case. The power of their performances should have been equal, or with the couple’s on higher ground, but it didn’t even come close. The comedic and mysteriously dramatic performance by Jon Jon Briones was unexpected, but fit the narrative well, and provided sick, wonderful entertainment. (Never have I heard a more sleazy song about the American Dream, appropriately titled “The American Dream”.)
I couldn’t tell whether this had to do with the script itself or the directing of Laurence Connor’s, but there were confusing aspects of the musical that didn’t seem to fit together. The death of Thuy was obviously significant to the story, especially as Kim is haunted by his ghost. Her fervent devotion to Tam, including an entire song, alludes to a difficult decision she eventually has to make. However, my boyfriend and I found it very unclear how exactly these events led up to the ending. Seeing another production or reading the script would probably help clear up whether the haziness was due to the script or Connor’s interpretation.
My favorite scene, by a landslide, was the flashback that depicted the Fall of Saigon. Somehow, the set became even more beautiful (and this is not even considering the infamous helicopter). The placement of the scene fit perfectly within the show, and the pacing was top-notch. One of the reasons the flashback stood out was because the urgency manifested itself in all of the characters, from the main characters to the ensemble; I was able to properly sympathize with Chris and Kim during this time. However, it irritated me that Noblezada’s and Brammer’s performances only seemed natural when the stakes were high. This was the kind of devotion and desperation I wanted to see from them throughout the show.
Maybe I went on a bad night. I’m glad I got to finally see it after all of these years, but I wish to see a better performance in the future. If you are on-the-fence about seeing Miss Saigon and can find tickets cheaper than $39, it may be worth it.