Picks and Pans Review: Miss Saigon

updated 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Original London Cast

A musical play based on the Vietnam War seems a promisingly provocative idea. But an opera? Written by two Frenchmen?

A hit in London and apparently headed for New York City, this is an acknowledged transposition of the East-destructively-meets-West story from Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly. Composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, who also created Les Miserables, build their story around a Saigon prostitute who falls in love with a GI near the end of the war.

When American forces evacuate from Vietnam, she ends up in a Thailand brothel, where she gives birth to the GI's child. His return to Southeast Asia, with his American wife, leads to a wrenching confrontation.

Take notes here. There is only a sketchy plot description in the album notes. Another problem is the doggerel-ridden language: "This kid is OK/ He is our entré/ To the U.S.A." And there are long stretches of ex-positional verbiage: "I never thought that one day I'd plead/ For half-breeds from a land that's torn/ Then I saw a camp for children whose crime was being born."

The ponderous tone also seems inappropriate. Rock opera, maybe, but the closest Miss Saigon comes to that is "If You Want to Die in Bed", the fury that rock and roll can express so well gets drowned in the sweep of Boublil and Schönberg's music.

Much of it is lovely, and Lea Salonga, a 19-year-old Filipino who sings the lead role of Kim, has an exquisite voice. Too often, though, the emotion gets lost. What might have been a vital, visceral experience is only cerebral. (Geffen)

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