Miss Saigon (1989) and Les Miserables (1985)
A Personal Experience
Each live musical my wife and I attended and seeing it on stage was a phenomenon in itself and each visit to the theatre had a story to tell. I cannot exactly remember the names of the theatres we went to but the 5 shows we attended were at the West End in London, an area like Broadway in New York, where musicals, plays and theatre acts were of the best quality with pomp, pageantry, and people.
Buzzing Helicopter Icon: Miss Saigon
And during the 1990's attending stage musicals was trendy indeed, a happening that went on for many years and visitors going to London specially to watch these extravaganzas. But for us, it was just the music; a natural flow from musicals in the 50's to these ones in the 90's.
Cameron Mitchell's Miss Saigon was exceptional because it was one of the first musicals we went to in the early 90's. The draw for this particular show was Lea Salonga, a Philipino superstar who made it big with the starring role as Kim. We wanted to hear her sing in person. She was supposed to be performing that evening but didn't.
It was a let down that night at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane but an unforgettable one. Strangely when I played the CD I could not recall many of the songs I thought I knew except for The Overture, The Heat Is On In Saigon, The Movie In My Mind, Sun and Moon, I Still Believe and the mental awakening of, If You Wanna Die In Bed.
It is based on the opera, Madame Butterfly and tells the sad tale of a romance, doomed from the start, between an Asian woman and her American lover. The plot setting was in 1975 in Vietnam during the war.
Not a musical I would take a child to since the lyrics would not be within the youngster's vocabulary, "Men pay a lot for virgin arse..."
Miss Saigon lasted 10 years at the West End. To me it was The World of Suzie Wong revived, with Vietnam the buzz word. Great theatre though, especially with a huge 'helicopter' (or half of it) buzzing with full stereophonic sound and hovering near the ceiling on stage. It was a thrill for many of us in the audience. And lots of space for Asian actors to perform. But we loved the show!
Revolution Street Barrier Icon: Les Miserables.
Another Cameron Mitchell sensation, this musical I could not appreciate*. Honestly, we didn't enjoy it, found it too heavy because we were tired out during the show after some heavy London eating and sight seeing. The plot was simple enough but we did get a little miserable watching it in the evening. The songs too didn't make it out for me.
The ones that I vaguely remember were, On My Own, One Day More, I Dreamed A Dream and Lovely Ladies. The jocular Master Of The House woke me up from my golden slumber at the theatre.
To be fair, the musical was a huge success but the biggest impact for me was the unique street barricade on stage erected by the youthful revolutionists. It became an icon for Les Miz, like the chopper did for Miss Saigon. The original stage production in London was the longest running musical since 1985 and second in the world.
Queen's Theatre, Soho, Shaftesbury Avenue, Gerrard Street and a walk to a Chinese restaurant, where a bowl of won-ton noodles cost 10 Pounds and the restaurant had a minimum price entry tagged at 15 Pounds; kept me confused even to this day. Tickets too, cost a whopper then. But no Leicester Square for us. We weren't walking there to buy half price ones. Too tired.
No CD's from the show but watched the movie at home in later years. Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman were huge. But neither Victor Hugo nor the musical was for me. Could be the long journey from Vietnam to France? (Below a tired looking Andy Young posing outside the British Museum in 1990.)
Perhaps I just wanted to be happily entertained, with the emphasis on happily. The experience came only when we saw Cats, The Phantom of The Opera and Starlight Express. Another two stops on the road to witness musicals.
But it was a long way from the Cathay Cinema in the 50's to West End in the 90's.
There is no intention to denigrate the plays mentioned.
Images: Google; Personal Collection.