The role of Chris in Miss Saigon made SIMON BOWMAN a West End star when the show debuted to rave reviews at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1989.
After playing the American soldier whose doomed romance with Vietnamese bargirl Kim is the subject of the smash hit musical for around 1,000 performances, Bowman went on to play some of the most iconic roles in musical theatre.
His brief return to the Miss Saigon stage, along with his original co-stars Lea Salonga and Jonathan Pryce, was one of the highlights of the milestone 25th anniversary performance in September 2014.
Footage of that special event is included in the filmed version of Cameron Mackintosh’s most recent production of Boublil and Schönberg’s haunting musical which was screened in selected cinemas in the US on 22 September.
Ahead of a similar one-night only screening of the film at cinemas across the UK on 16 October Margaret Vermette (author of The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg) caught up with Simon in New York for Musical Theatre Review to talk about his involvement in the show.
How do you think the 25th anniversary production compares with the original?
It’s a fantastic show, but of course that show comes from the original. There are a lot of changes. I do believe they’ve made it slightly darker and obviously the blocking is different. I also think the lighting has made it a little bit lusher.
You have to take into account that when we did it originally we were pioneering things like the helicopter. When that came on stage I think it had more of an impact because people weren’t expecting it. But I think the show is just as powerful now as ever.
On the 25th anniversary people were saying: ‘This is my favourite musical!’ It’s such a lovely thing, and it just makes me feel really proud to be part of originating a production that now everyone knows.
And what about the performances?
I thought Eva Noblezada was just amazing. And I was very proud of Jon (Briones) as he was in the original cast with me. So it’s a very special thing and he’s a good friend of mine. It’s lovely to see him returning to play a leading role and he’s fantastic. Alistair (Brammer) is also a good friend – he was my Marius when I was doing Valjean. I just think they all did so wonderfully well.
How was the finale?
People say it was one of the highlights of the evening! It felt almost as if we’d done the show again – but we’d just turned up at the end.
There’s always something a bit special about an original cast coming together on stage again. It was the same for the 25th anniversary of Les Mis when the four Valjeans came on and they saw Colm Wilkinson, or with Phantom and Michael Crawford coming on. It’s special because that was where the show was born. People still have memories of the original that never leave and they can say: ‘I was there. I saw that.’
Laurence Connor directed the finale, as he did the new production, and the current and original cast interacted, sometimes singing duets. Lea (Salonga) and I were on with Alistair and Eva, and when we swapped partners it was very tongue-in-check, which came across well.
It was great fun and I think the audience loved it. As soon as I put my arm around Lea she looked up and smiled – the whole audience laughed and applauded. It took them all back. Weirdly enough none of the keys have changed – as soon as I hit the top note there was a lovely round of applause: ‘Oh, he can still do it!’
Did you enjoy meeting the original cast again?
It was wonderful – Keith Burns, Peter Poly (Polycarpou), Jonathan Pryce and all the original cast. It was so wonderful seeing them all again – you pick up from where you left off.
When I walked in with Lea, all of a sudden she looked at me – she’s a grown woman with a family – but she looked at me with her 17- year-old eyes and we had a lovely hug.
She’ll always have a special place in my heart because it’s been such a special production. She was so young and I looked after her – that was my job. I was in my mid-20s and she was 17 and she entrusted everything within me and that’s why we have such a special relationship.
Was it nice singing with her again?
Oh God, yes! We have such a laugh and it was just like being in the groove of things again. Even though we’re older it was just ‘here we go again – we’ve just gone back 25 years’. There was still the chemistry that we made – that was still there. We didn’t have to do any blocking it just happened. We’d just do it and the memories instantly came back.
In what ways do you think it will be different watching a filmed performance in the cinema compared to a theatre performance?
Although Miss Saigon is obviously very successful in theatre, I do think it lends itself perfectly for film. They filmed it very intimately and the cinematic photography is fantastic. I’m so pleased Cameron (Mackintosh) is releasing it in cinemas because people know and love the story.
Do you think a cinema audience will react in the same way?
I definitely think they will react in the same way as in the theatre – applauding, laughing and crying all at the same moments. And they will have the bonus of seeing the finale with the original cast, which only people at the 25th anniversary were able to see.
Simon Bowman’s theatre credits include: Blondel (Old Vic and Aldwych Theatre); Mack and Mabel (Aldwych); Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Phoenix Theatre); both Marius and Jean Valjean in Les Misérables (Palace Theatre, Queen’s Theatre); Just So (Watermill Theatre, Newbury); both Raoul and Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre); and The Prodigals (Belgrade Theatre, Coventry).
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