The heat has been very much on in Saigon in terms of my theatregoing this year. Firstly, there was the much anticipated return of Miss Saigon to the West End earlier this summer, with Cameron Mackintosh and Laurence Connor’s exquisite reimagining of the show playing at the Prince Edward Theatre giving the story a new intensity and poignancy. Central to the success of this production is the performance of Eva Noblezada as Kim, who gives a performance of such depth and maturity it is hard to believe that she is only 18 years old. The original Kim, Lea Salonga, was the same age when she started her Saigon journey in 1989 and 25 years after the premiere of the original production at Drury Lane, Salonga and the original cast joined the current company of Miss Saigon for a thrilling gala performance which I was lucky enough to see live at the Prince Edward a few weeks ago. The deafening applause and huge reaction to Salonga’s appearance on stage prove that she will forever be associated with Saigon by many theatregoers, and it was thrilling to watch her be reunited with her original Chris, Simon Bowman, for ‘Last Night of the World’, my favourite song in the show. I caught up with Salonga for the second time in a month on the arena stage, where she is currently appearing opposite Il Divo in their new show, A Musical Affair, in a rare series of appearances in the UK.

It was a refreshing change to see an arena show featuring practically an all-Broadway programme. This was easy listening at its best, featuring a moderate scale on-stage orchestra (a luxury nowadays), and sensible amplification. The four voices of Il Divo blend together so effectively in each song, with each member in turn having a solo part before being joined by the rest of the group. If the talk in between some numbers was a little laboured at times (with a little too much flirting with the attractive ladies in the audience!), it was all in good fun, and the stage back-drop projects images of scenery, people and locations throughout, taking the audience into the world of each song. The choice of numbers was strong too. The first half was topped and tailed by ‘Tonight’ and ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, featuring beautiful arrangements and a purity of tone. Il Divo are at their best in these classic love songs, giving a lyrical impetus to songs such as ‘Love Changes Everything’ and singing in a variety of different languages from time to time too. The group also featured some lesser-heard numbers, such as ‘Who Can I Turn To?’ from ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd’ and Camelot’s ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’.

But it was Salonga who provided the vocal highlights of the evening for this Saigon fan, giving an exciting and spirited version of ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked and a beautifully told rendering of Ragtime’s ‘Back to Before’. Salonga obviously loves performing – a wide and friendly smile lights up her face under those big bright eyes – and she has a natural cheekiness and infectious enthusiasm when performing with Il Divo too. They are well matched in purity of tone by Salonga for Aladdin’s ‘Whole New World’ (Salonga was, of course, the voice of the original film’s Princess Jasmine) and a dramatic version of ‘Music of the Night’. The 25th anniversary of Miss Saigon is a significant year for Salonga too, as that was when she made the decision to pursue a career in music and the theatre. Salonga chose to feature Boublil and Schonberg’s other mega-hit, Les Miserables, in which she has played both Fantine and Cosette, singing her own brother’s arrangement of ‘I Dreamed A Dream/On My Own’ with great purity and sensitivity. They were the next best thing to hearing Salonga return to the Miss Saigon score – I guess for that pleasure, it will be necessary to return to the new West End production...and soon.