A moving yet tragic love story involving an Asian woman and her American lover, Miss Saigon is one of the highest-grossing musicals ever. It’s based on the 1904 opera Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. The setting of the plot is located to the 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War, so the story of Madame Butterfly’s marriage between a geisha and an American lieutenant is replaced by a romance between a Vietnamese bargirl and a US Marine.
Miss Saigon is a musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Boublil. The show first premiered in London in 1989 and opened on Broadway in 1991. The London revival in 2014 has set a world record of opening day ticket sales, with sales of more than £4 million reported. The musical was Schönberg and Boublil’s second major success after Les Misérables in 1985.
The idea for Miss Saigon was inspired by a photograph, which Schönberg found in a magazine. The photo showed a Vietnamese mother leaving her child at a departure gate at an airbase to board a plane headed for the US, where the child’s ex-GI father would be in a better position to provide a good life for the child. Schönberg thought of this as the ultimate sacrifice, which is the central idea of Miss Saigon’s plot.
Original West End production
Miss Saigon premiered at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on September 20, 1989, and closed on October 30, 1999, after 4,264 performances. The show was directed by Nicholas Hytner, with stage design by John Napier and musical staging by Bob Avian. In 1994, the show became the Theatre Royal’s longest-running musical, surpassing the record by My Fair Lady.
The original West End cast was:
- Lea Salonga as Kim
- Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer
- Simon Bowman as Chris
- Peter Polycarpou as John
- Claire Moore as Ellen
- Keith Burns as Thuy
- Isay Alvarez as Gigi
Original Broadway production
In Broadway, the musical debuted at the Broadway Theatre on April 11, 1991, and closed on January 28, 2001. The production also had Hytner as director, Napier as the set designer, and Avian as the musical stager. The lighting design was by David Hersey, and costume design was by AndreaneNeofitou and Suzy Benzinger.
The original Broadway cast included:
- Lea Salonga as Kim
- Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer
- Willy Falk as Chris
- Hinton Battle as John
- Liz Callaway as Ellen
- Barry Bernal as Thuy
- Marina Chapa as Gigi
Miss Saigon is an epic and daring adaptation of Puccini’s 1904 opera that is universal in its emotional power. Reframing Puccini’s original story by setting it during the Vietnam War, Miss Saigon is a powerful love story in a war-torn country, telling a tragedy of passion and beauty.
Before the end of the Vietnam War, Chris, an American soldier, goes to a party with his fellow US Marines on a Saigon bar and brothel. That day, it was Kim’s first day as a bargirl. The seventeen-year-old girl readies herself with the other girls for the night’s show. Chris was a sergeant disenchanted by the bar scene but was encouraged by his friend John to go with a girl.
Kim’s innocence and obvious lack of experience strike Chris. John buys a room for Chris and the virgin Kim. Kim was shy, but she dances with Chris. They eventually slept together and got to talking in the morning. The two fell in love. The bargirls hold a wedding ceremony for Chris and Kim. However, Thuy, Kim’s cousin to whom she is betrothed at 13 years old, arrives at the scene to take her home. Thuy was an officer of the Vietnamese army and got disgusted to find Kim with a white man. They confront each other, but Kim tells Thuy that their arranged marriage will not happen anymore because their parents are dead.
The scene cuts to three years later, where Vietnam is reunified. Chris and Kim are forced apart, and each found their way. Kim has been hiding in an impoverished area and still believing that Chris will return. Meanwhile, Chris got married in America with Ellen as he never had any contact with Kim anymore and was unsure if she was still alive.
Thuy, now a commissar in the new Communist government of Vietnam, ordered soldiers to look for Engineer, have him find Kim, and bring her to him. The soldiers find Engineer and Kim, and Kim refuses Thuy’s renewed offer of marriage. Kim introduces him to Tam, her son from Chris. Thuy got furious and tried to kill Tam with a knife, but Kim shoots him dead to save her son. She flees and tells the Engineer what she has done. The three set out on a ship to Bangkok with other refugees.
In Georgia, John was working for an aid organization whose mission is to connect Vietnamese street children with their American fathers. John informs Chris that Kim is still alive, that he has a son named Tam. He urges Chris to go to Bangkok with Ellen to see Kim and Tam. Chris finally tells Ellen about Kim and his son with her.
John finds Kim dancing at a club in Bangkok and tells her that Chris is also in the city. She is thrilled about the news, believing that they are about to go to America with Chris. John was about to tell Kim that Chris has a wife, but he cannot say it sees Kim so happy. The Engineer then tells Kim to find Chris himself.
Kim joyfully dresses in wedding attire and goes to Chris’s hotel room, heartbroken to find Ellen, who reveals that she is Chris’s wife. Kim pleads Ellen that they take Tam with them back to America, but Ellen refuses. Kim angrily demands that Chris would tell her these things in person, while Ellen is determined to keep Chris.
When John and Chris arrived at the hotel, Ellen tells them that Kim came and tried to give away her son to them. Ellen asks Chris to choose between her and Kim, and Chris reassures Ellen of his love for her. The three find the Engineer so they can go where Kim is.
While in her room, Kim tells Tam that he must be happy because she has found his father, but tells him that she cannot go with him. Chris, along with Ellen, John, and the Engineer, arrive outside her room. The Engineer takes Tam outside to introduce him to his father. While this is happening, Kim shoots herself to ensure that her son will be taken back to America by Chris. As she falls, Chris rushes to the room and finds Kim. She dies in his arms as she cries her name.
- “Overture” / “Backstage Dreamland” – Gigi, Kim, The Engineer, and Bar Girls
- “The Heat is On in Saigon” – Soldiers, Bar Girls, The Engineer, Kim, John, Chris, and Gigi
- “The Movie in My Mind” – Gigi, Kim and Bar Girls
- “The Transaction” – The Engineer, John, Soldiers, Chris, and Kim
- “The Dance” – Kim, Chris and The Engineer
- “Why, God, Why?” – Chris
- “This Money’s Yours” – Chris and Kim
- “Sun and Moon” – Chris and Kim
- “The Telephone Song” / “Asking For Leave” – Chris and John
- “The Deal” – The Engineer and Chris
- “The Wedding Ceremony” – Gigi, Kim, Bar Girls, and Chris
- “Thuy’s Arrival” / “Thuy’s Intervention” – Thuy, Chris, and Kim
- “Last Night of the World” – Chris and Kim
- “The Morning of the Dragon” – Soldiers, The Engineer, Two Guards and Thuy
- “I Still Believe” – Kim and Ellen
- “Back in Town” / “Coo-Coo Princess” – The Engineer, Kim, Thuy, and Soldiers
- “Thuy’s Death” / “You Will Not Touch Him” – Thuy and Kim
- “This is the Hour” – Chorus
- “If You Want to Die in Bed” – The Engineer
- “Let Me See His Western Nose” / “Kim & Engineer”– Kim and The Engineer
- “I’d Give My Life for You” – Kim
- “Exodus” – Chorus
- “Bui Doi” – John and Chorus
- “The Revelation” – Chris and John
- “What a Waste” – The Engineer, Hustlers, Tourists, John and Kim
- “Please” – John and Kim (Original Production) / “Too Much For One Heart” – John and Kim (2014 London / 2017 Broadway productions)
- “Chris is Here” – The Engineer, Kim, Club Owner, and John
- “Kim’s Nightmare” – Thuy
- “Fall of Saigon” – Soldiers, Chris, Kim, John and Citizens
- “Sun and Moon” (Reprise) – Kim
- “Room 317” – Kim and Ellen
- “Now That I’ve Seen Her” (Original production “Her or Me”) / “Maybe” – Ellen (2011 Holland / 2014 London / 2014 Japan / 2017 Broadway productions)
- “The Confrontation” – Chris, Ellen, John, and Kim
- “Paper Dragons” – The Engineer and Kim
- “The American Dream” – The Engineer
- “This is the Hour” / “Little God of My Heart” (Reprise) – Kim
- “Finale” – Chris and Kim
Original London production
- Best Actor in a Musical, Laurence Olivier Award (1989) – Jonathan Pryce
- Best Actress in a Musical, Laurence Olivier Award (1989) – Lea Salonga
Original Broadway production
- Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, Tony Award (1991) – Jonathan Pryce
- Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (1991) – Lea Salonga
- Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Tony Award (1991) – Hinton Battle
- Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1991) – Jonathan Pryce
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1991) – Lea Salonga
- Outstanding Orchestrations, Drama Desk Award (1991) – William David Brohn
- Outstanding Lighting Design, Drama Desk Award (1991) – David Hersey
- Theatre World Award – Lea Salonga