I’m glad that in the future I get to say that I watched the West End revival of Miss Saigon three times after spending the first year of its existence in 2014 wanting and finding people to watch it with.
Prior to Miss Saigon and listening to the 2012 Broadway recording of Once, I’m pretty much a theatre newbie, what with my BTEC Performing Arts fatefully swerving me closer to becoming a writer. If it weren’t for the scriptwriting part of the course I would have ended up going on auditions and taking me wherever the wind decided to take me!
“The calm before the storm”:
It was August of 2015 when those fantasies of becoming a performer resurfaced when my aunt took me, my sister and cousin to one of the evening performances of Miss Saigon‘s new home in the Prince Edward Theatre, a factor that probably helped make my experience watching the show ten times more fun.
The paintings and figures around the theatre that whispered the building’s history are so cool; I can’t wait to see Miss Saigon’s memento in the theatre (my friends and I are thinking to watch either Les Mis or The Lion King next).
The stage, however, was gritty and sharp with accents of bamboo, a sign that explicitly says KISS ME and a curtain that mimic bags sewn together, it almost becomes a juxtaposition when compared to the more refined look of its casing. I wondered what the actors behind the curtain were doing before showtime!
My favourite part? The very beginning.
The thunderous sound of the helicopter looming over the audience is not only a taster of what’s to come, but it also tells the more fidgety members to turn their phone off and look at the girl in the white dress standing centre stage, head covered by a conical hat, in a lone spotlight.
Back and forth:
There is a complexity to the characters in this show that not only translates to good writing but also mirrors the faces of the war; whichever side you’re looking the different colours. Just when you thought you know who the real hero and villains are, you end up digging some more and see layers uncover and the same characters change.
Gigi (Natalie Mendoza/Marsha Songcome) turns from hardened and cold to vulnerable, John (Hugh Maynard) from immoral to someone righting the wrongs, The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones) from seedy to simply one of the victims and Ellen (Carolyn Maitland/Siobhan Dillon) becomes the most polarising character of the second act. But my favourite supporting character is Thuy (Sangwoong Jo). You could see all he wanted was to take care of Kim and follow tradition, a trait more empathised with if his temper and his army men didn’t get in the way.
The chemistry between lovers Chris (Chris Peluso) and Kim (Eva Noblezada) is a candle flame that never died. I listened to their cast recording prior to watching and was used to Alistair Brammer’s take, more confused and poetic, but eventually grew to enjoy Peluso’s take on the G.I., who leaned more towards emotionally closed and physically shaken.
So many people still compare Eva Noblezada to Lea Salonga and to be honest, both roles were good and to compare would be an invalid debate. Watching her 2000 Manila performance, Salonga’s Kim is more operatic and always in perfect pitch. Noblezada, on the other hand, manages to jump from a howl of anger and horror to a silky coo with ease. The scenes may take only a few minutes but Noblezada is able to draw you in so close they feel like hours, as if they were real situations and were happening right in front of you.
The girl who smells of orange trees:
After my third time watching their evening performance, I managed to meet Eva Noblezada at stage door and asked whether she could answer some questions for this segment regarding the show and her character, to which she said yes!
1. What has the two years playing Kim taught you about being a performer and as a person?
I’ve been able to grow as a young woman in life as well as an actress. And playing Kim has taught me many things about maturity, patience and handling anything you can with grace. Because I hadn’t trained professionally, two years of being on the West End have really changed my perspective on EVERYTHING when it comes to performing. Training at its best!
2. You have mentioned in a previous interview that Kim goes through a sort of white swan-black swan transition in the show. How do you manage playing a character that goes through such dark and trying events six shows a week without accidentally taking some of that energy home?
Being an actor is exhausting, especially in this particular show. I do on rare occasion take the emotional baggage home, but my home is quite comfy lol. I tend to have a few minutes in bed, maybe breathing and closing my eyes to relieve myself of all of that energy. Two years has made it much easier.
3. To me, Miss Saigon leaves a lasting message about the many types of love that there is and the trials we must endure when holding onto these, which can eventually make or break us. What message did you get from your first encounter of the show?
Anyone watching Miss Saigon will leave the theatre with specific personal feelings or nostalgic thoughts! Maybe feeling inspired or in love. I was only seventeen when I first read through the script and music. The words that stuck with me were passion and inner truth.
4. Allegience, which is currently playing in Broadway starring George Takei and Lea Salonga, has been somewhat a positive catalyst for Asian performers; do you think the same is happening here in the West End for performers of colour?
Oh yes! I’m so excited for theatre at the moment! So much diversity and dare I say it, change! There are a lot of shows like Memphis and Motown that are giving the West End an edgy feel. Miss Saigon preceded Here Lies Love! Two amazing shows for Asian actors. I didn’t think I’d EVER get a chance to play Eponine, but here I am! Very lucky indeed!
5. And lastly, before you reprise your role as Kim on Broadway (Congratulations!), you’ll be performing as Eponine here in the West End production of Les Mis this coming April. What will you be looking forward to the most on your break before taking on the role?
I am over the moon to be playing Eponine! But before rehearsals start I’ll be in Morocco for eight days at a yoga, spa and surf resort! 🙂 Trying to balance my levels and detox my mind and body. Allowing me a clean slate before taking on a show/role that’s a completely different colour than Miss Saigon!
Eva Noblezada (Twitter): @EvaNoblezada
Miss Saigon: West End website
Miss Saigon (Twitter): @MissSaigonUK
Miss Saigon: The Definitive Live Recording: iTunes UK
Miss Saigon will continue to play in the Prince Edward Theatre until the 27th of February 2016 (27/02/16). Book your tickets on their website here. To get a glimpse of the view from your chosen seat, click on the interactive view on the same page. Happy watching!