"Miss Saigon," Britain's latest musical to take Broadway by storm, may be the last of a decade-old breed.
Consider the evidence:- London's hottest new musical, "Five Guys Named Moe," is a low-budget, high-voltage revue powered by its performers, not by spectacle.
- This spring's major opening, "Carmen Jones," is made expensive by its cast of 52, not by the heft of its hydraulics.
- "Cats," "Les Miserables," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Miss Saigon" were all preceded by years of hype, but there is no blockbuster looming on the horizon this year.
The next mega-hyped show, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of "Sunset Boulevard," is not due on the West End until 1992 at the earliest.
The new breed of London musical takes audiences by surprise, championing old-fashioned virtues like tunefulness and talent, not special effects and glitz.
"We've got a classic book, a classic story, classic lyrics, a classic score. Audiences sure as hell don't go out humming the scenery in `Carmen Jones,' " said producer Howard Panter.
The musical, a reworking of Georges Bizet's opera by Oscar Hammerstein II, opened Monday at the Old Vic Theater.
Panter said Hammerstein's musical was interested in "narrative, not effects," and its avoidance of spectacle typifies London's recent sleeper hits.
Last season's rock musical, "Return To the Forbidden Planet," is a lighthearted pastiche that has continued to run when newer fare such as "Children of Eden" have closed, done in by their own excesses.
"Five Guys Named Moe," which on Sunday won two Laurence Olivier Awards - London's Tony - is a buoyant but small-scale tribute to American saxophonist and jazz composer Louis Jordan.
It comes from the same producer, Cameron Mackintosh, who mounted "Phantom of the Opera" and "Miss Saigon," but its $700,000 budget would barely pay two weeks' costs of those other shows on Broadway.
"I do a show because I like it," Mackintosh said in an interview when the show bowed on the West End in December. "In the end, I never get hooked on scale."
"Miss Saigon," which opened Thursday, was the most eagerly awaited musical of the year on Broadway. The $10 million production has a cast of 45 and several mechanical showstoppers, including a spectacular helicopter liftoff in the second act.
These days, though, smaller seems to be better, a sense reinforced by the quick demise of "Children of Eden," the overproduced Stephen Schwartz-John Caird show that closed April 6 after a three-month run.
A new musical, "Matador," starring Stefanie Powers, opens Tuesday and its producer is quick to point out the species of show his musical is not.
Laurence Myers said his director Elijah Moshinsky's vision "did not include a massive desire to out-`Phantom' `Phantom' and out-`Saigon' `Saigon.' "
"I felt very strongly one should not try to compete with `Miss Saigon,' " Myers said. "Then you get into the extravaganza business."
Whereas "Saigon" cost $6.67 million in London, this new show cost $2.67 million. Its advance sale is less, too - $600,000 for "Matador" as opposed to over $1 million when "Miss Saigon" opened in London in September 1989.
Meanwhile, London is awaiting the British premieres of such New York successes as "City of Angels," last year's Tony-winning Best Musical; Tommy Tune's "Grand Hotel"; and the hit revival of "Gypsy," starring Tyne Daly.