Review: Return of the Little Copter That Wowed in ‘Miss Saigon’

The “gadzooks!” arrival of the helicopter isn’t the only way in which this tale of love, betrayal and sacrifice in the last days of the Vietnam War summons the gaslight era. Inspired by “Madama Butterfly,” Puccini’s beloved opera from 1904 — which was based on a 1900 play, taken from an 1898 short story — “Miss Saigon” is as mechanically melodramatic as any theatrical potboiler from the early 20th century.

A virtuous maiden driven to murder and stalked through the night by a vengeful army, maternal love in extremis, a demon ghost and a handsome hero who, believing his One True Love is gone, has Married Another — these are just some of the elements that inform the locomotive plot of “Miss Saigon,” a creation of those mavens of grand popera Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg.

It’s not as if such stories don’t still have the power to stir suspense and tears. But this eventful, sung-through production out of London, directed by Laurence Connor, feels about as affecting as a historical diorama, albeit a lavishly appointed one. (The lurid postcard set is by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley, from a “design concept” by Adrian Vaux.)

Photo

Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada in the leading roles of this musical.

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

This despite the hard and dedicated work of its earnest cast, which includes a slithery Jon Jon Briones as an enterprising Vietnamese pimp, a dewy Eva Noblezada as a heroic country girl and Alistair Brammer as the American soldier who loves and leaves her. Though it sets off inevitable topical echoes with its tableau of asylum-seeking refugees, the show still mostly comes across as singing scenery.

That certainly wasn’t the impression of critics when…

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