The new show "Miss Saigon" received a rapturous ovation at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane, followed by decidedly mixed early reviews for the first major musical set mostly in Vietnam.
"For all its frenzied breast-beating, this is a show with about as much heart as the Tin Man in `The Wizard of Oz,' " Charles Osborne in wrote the Daily Telegraph of the musical, which updates the tragic tale of Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" opera to the Vietnam War.Lea Salonga, an 18-year-old Filipino making her acting debut in the West, and Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce star as a young Vietnamese girl, Kim, and her cynical pimp, The Engineer.
Both yearn for the United States - she to escape her war-torn country, he to exploit what he refers to sardonically in a second-act showstopper as "the American dream."
Simon Bowman plays the American GI who weds Kim in 1975 prior to the fall of Saigon only to leave her for a new life, and a new American bride. The story reaches its fatal climax in Bangkok in 1978, with the implication that innocence, as embodied by Kim, cannot be reclaimed.
Salonga and Pryce both received cheers from the black-tie audience that gave "Miss Saigon" an eight-minute standing ovation.
But alongside the applause came concerns about the hype, with some wondering if this wasn't another in a series of effects-heavy, overhyped British productions that substitute impressive mechanics for meaningful emotion.
Said the Daily Telegraph's Osborne: "It gives the impression of having been cynically concocted - with lavish high-tech decor as the most important ingredient - merely to fill theater seats."
Lester Middlehurst in the newspaper Today wrote: "There's more to a musical than the (money) it cost Cameron Mackintosh to create such stunts as landing helicopters on stage and building giant statues of Ho Chi Minh. . . ."
Both of these staging coups received extensive advance publicity in the British press and elicited more applause than most of the musical numbers.
Problems installing the 22-foot statue of Ho Chi Minh, reported to weigh almost 2 tons, had led to the cancellation of the first two previews. But the opening night proceeded without technical difficulty.
Budgeted at $4.65 million, "Miss Saigon" will most likely withstand any critical slights. Its advance sale to date is almost $8 million, and a Broadway opening is tentatively scheduled for late autumn, 1990, with director Nicholas Hytner repeating his London assignment.
"Miss Saigon" marks another commercial hit for millionaire producer Mackintosh, whose shows, besides "Les Miserables," include "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera," two internationally successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.
But the producer said in a pre-opening interview that he is forsaking mega-musicals for a while to turn his attention to Alan Parker's upcoming film version of "Les Miserables."