Miss Saigon


Credits and Major Productions

Book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. Based on the opera, Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini. Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr.

The world premiere production opened in London’s West End on 20 September 1989 and was directed by Nicholas Hytner, with musical staging by Bob Avian. The production closed on 30 October 1999 after 4 264 performances. Subsequent productions on Broadway and in the West End: Broadway premiere (1991, 4092 performances), London revival (2014, 760 performances) and the planned Broadway revival (2017). A documentary on the creation of the show, The Heat is On in Saigon is available and a film version is currently in development.

Background and Context

Simon Bowman as Chris and Lea Salonga as Kim in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Simon Bowman as Chris and Lea Salonga as Kim in the original production of MISS SAIGON

SUBJECT MATTER: The Aftermath of the Vietnam War.

BEFORE: (1951) Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II write The King and I, a musical about the conversation between East and West, but ultimately Mrs Anna perpetuates a typical white saviour narrative. (1976) Pacific Overtures looks at the Westernisation of Japan, with Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman assuming a Japanese perspective while still acknowledging their American point of view. (1980) Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Mar Natel premiere Les Misérables in Paris, the London production of which will serve as a template for the creation of Miss Saigon.

AFTER: (1995) Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton continue the mega-musical trend with Sunset Boulevard, which has a mansion on stage. (2001) David Henry Hwang’s new book for a revised version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Flower Drum Song attempts to address the problems of racial representation in the original. After a Los Angeles premiere, the production receives a poor reception on Broadway in 2002. (2012) Jay Kuo, Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thion’s Allegiance, based on George Takei’s experiences in Japanese-American internment camps, premieres in San Diego and receives mixed reviews on Broadway in 2015.

Character Descriptions and Vocal Ranges

Character Range Description
Kim Mezzo-Soprano/Belter (E3-D5) A 17-year-old Vietnamese woman who falls in love with Chris, an American marine. Young and naïve, she is strong-willed will do anything for the good of her son, Tam.
Chris Tenor (A2-B4#) A tormented American GI in his 20s, he is in love with Kim, but finds solace in a relationship with Ellen in the USA after he is separated from Kim in Vietnam.
The Engineer Baritone (B2-A4) The French-Vietnamese owner of the Dreamland, he is a greasy wheeler-dealer who puts self-preservation above everything else. Aged 30 – 50.
John Tenor (G#2-B) An Ameican GI in his twenties who is Chris’s best friend, John deals with the war by becoming an activist for the offspring of American soldiers and Vietnamese mothers.
Thuy Tenor (C3-B4) A young, stalwart and determined Vietnamese military leader who will stop at nothing to get his betrothed, Kim, back for himself. Aged 17 – 25.
Ellen Mezzo-Soprano/Belter (F3-E5) A sensible and stable American woman in her twenties who marries Chris in the USA, Ellen is determined to do what is best for her husband, his son and her marriage.
Gigi Mezzo-Soprano/Belter (C2-E5) A Vietnamese bar-girl, Gigi appears to be a hardened stripper, but is in fact a vulnerable woman, aged 17 – 25, who dreams of a better future.
Tam Non-singing Tam is the two-year-old son of Chris and Kim.

The show includes a a large ensemble of marines, Vietnamese soldiers, bar-girls, citizens, refugees, embassy workers, conference delegates, hustlers and go-go dancers. Featured roles include Mimi, Yvette and Yyonne (bar-gilrs at Dreamland) and Schultz, HArrison, Travis, Weber, Estevez and Alliot (marines). The vocal range for ensemble men is A2-D5 and for ensemble women is A3-C6.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer and Lea Salonga as Kim in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer and Lea Salonga as Kim in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Saigon, 1975. A group of young women prepares to perform for the American Marines who frequent Dreamland, a club run by a seedy Engineer (OVERTURE). The women all hope that they will find a G.I. to take them out of the country, fearing that the Viet Cong will kill them if they are left behind when Saigon falls. As the Engineer sends the women into the club to stage a fake “Miss Saigon” beauty contest, he gives some final tips to Kim, who is performing at Dreamland for the first time, hoping that her virginity will command a high fee (BACKSTAGE AT DREAMLAND).

A group of Marines enters the bar (THE HEAT IS ON IN SAIGON). John has brought his friend, Chris, to Dreamland, hoping that a night out will take their minds off the volatile military situation in Saigon. Initially disinterested, Chris changes his mind when he sees the 17-year-old Kim, whose innocence contrasts her more provocative colleagues. When the more experienced Gigi wins the title of “Miss Saigon”, she dances with a Marine and dreams of a different life in America, while Kim dreams about a man who will keep her safe from the horrors of war (THE MOVIE IN MY MIND). The Engineer tells Kim that John has bought her for Chris (THE TRANSACTION). She reluctantly takes Chris to a tiny room, where they hear someone playing the saxophone somewhere in the moonlit city (THE DANCE).

Chris’s night with Kim has made him think about how the war has changed him (WHY, GOD, WHY?). Although he first leaves Kim’s room while she sleeps, he returns to give her more money (THIS MONEY IS YOURS). She refuses and when Chris questions her motives, she tells him that she saw her family slaughtered when an army destroyed her village. There she was betrothed to a man that she did not love; in Saigon, she has not future except working as a prostitute at Dreamland. Chris is moved by Kim’s story and asks her if she would consider living with him. Kim agrees, and the pair affirms their love (SUN AND MOON).

Eva Noblezada as Kim and Alistair Brammer as Chris in the London revival of MISS SAIGON (Photo credit: Michael Le Poer Trench)

Eva Noblezada as Kim and Alistair Brammer as Chris in the London revival of MISS SAIGON (Photo credit: Michael Le Poer Trench)

Chris calls John, asking him to tell their commanding officer that he is taking 48 hours leave to spend more time with Kim. John, concerned that the situation in Saigon has spiralled out of control, cautions him not to stay away from the U.S. Embassy and agrees to cover for him for one day (THE TELEPHONE SONG). The Engineer tries to renegotiate Chris’s deal for Kim, hoping to get a visa that will allow him to escape when the Americans pull out of Saigon. Unable to secure a visa for the Engineer, Chris gives him more money (THE DEAL).

Gigi and the other bar-girls arrive at the room that Kim and Chris will share. They set up a shrine with photos of Kim’s parents and, although the idea startles Chris, sing a traditional wedding song. (THE CEREMONY – DJU VUI VAI). A stranger interrupts the celebration. It is Thuy, the man to whom Kim’s parents promised her. He is outraged to find her in the midst of a wedding ceremony with Chris and tells Kim that he intends to make her live up to the commitment made by her parents (WHAT’S THIS I FIND?). Kim says she will never marry Thuy because of his betrayal when he changed sides in the war, allowing him to survive while her parents died. Thuy curses her, predicting that both Saigon and her G.I. will fall. Chris decides that he will take Kim to the United States with him and promises her she will not need the dreams to which she has been clinging any longer (THE LAST NIGHT OF THE WORLD).

Ho Chi Minh City, 1978. The Vietnamese celebrate THE MORNING OF THE DRAGON on the third anniversary of the unification of Vietnam. In her spot in a small room that she shares with a group of people, Kim is haunted by her time with Chris. In America, Chris’s wife, Ellen, comforts him after a nightmare, knowing that memories of the war that he has not shared with her torment him (I STILL BELIEVE).

Eva Noblezada as Kim and Kwang Ho Hong as Thuy in the London revival of MISS SAIGON (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Eva Noblezada as Kim and Kwang Ho Hong as Thuy in the London revival of MISS SAIGON (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Thuy, now a Commissar under the new dispensation, has been searching for Kim and bring in the Engineer to help him find her, threatening to kill him should he fail. When the Engineer brings Thuy to Kim’s room, Thuy demands that she fulfil the agreement of marriage made on her behalf by her parents (BACK IN TOWN). She refuses and reveals that she has given birth to Chris’s son, Tam, who is now two years old. Thuy threatens to kill the boy, and Kim pulls out a gun and shoots him dead (YOU WILL NOT TOUCH HIM/THUY’S DEATH). Horrified, but fully aware of the potential consequences of her actions, Kim flees with her son (THIS IS THE HOUR).

Meanwhile, the Engineer has gone to the abandoned Dreamland, where he recovers a box of counterfeit Rolex watches he had hidden there. He plans to use the money he makes by selling the watched to travel to the United States (IF YOU WANT TO DIE IN BED). Kim arrives to beg for his help, knowing that she must try and reach Chris in the USA. When the Engineer sees Tam, he realises that he can use the baby as a way of getting into the States (LET ME SEE HIS WESTERN NOSE). While he goes off to organise their passage by boat to Bangkok, Kim comforts Tam and promises him that she will risk anything so that he can have a better life (I’D GIVE MY LIFE FOR YOU). The Engineer returns and takes Kim, and Tam with him to join a group of refugees who are preparing to leave the country (EXODUS).

Atlanta, 1978. John is working for a charity that offers aid to BUI-DOI children, the children conceived by Americans soldiers and Vietnamese mothers during the war. After a conference that Chris attends, John gives his friend the news that Kim has escaped to Bangkok. He also tells Chris about Tam (THE REVELATION). Having had experience in negotiating similar situation, John recommends that Chris should tell Ellen everything and that they should all go to Bangkok to deal with the situation.

Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer in the London revival of MISS SAIGON (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer in the London revival of MISS SAIGON (Photo credit: Matthew Murphy)

Bangkok, 1978. Working at a nightclub called “Le Moulin Rouge”, the Engineer laments WHAT A WASTE his life has become. When John arrives, the Engineer takes him Kim, who is overjoyed to hear that Chris is in Bangkok. John cannot bring himself to tell her about Ellen, although he attempts to prevent Kim from getting her hopes up and tells her that he will bring Chris to meet her (PLEASE, replaced by TOO MUCH FOR ONE HEART).

The Engineer tells Kim she should go to Chris at his hotel and leaves to find out where he is staying (CHRIS IS HERE). Kim falls asleep while she waits. Thuy appears in KIM’S NIGHTMARE, asking her where Chris was during THE FALL OF SAIGON. Although Chris had secured a visa for Kim that would allow her to return to the United States with him, she is turned away at the embassy gates. Chris tries to find her, but his superiors order him to board the last helicopter to leave Saigon. Kim is left behind to face an uncertain future in Vietnam. Kim wakes up from her dream, her love for Chris stronger than even before (SUN AND MOON – REPRISE).

The Engineer arrives with the address of Chris’s hotel. Kim leaves to find him at the same time John is bringing Chris to her room. When Kim arrives at ROOM 317, Ellen mistakes her for a maid. Kim, who thinks that Ellen must be John’s wife, is stunned when Ellen tells her that she is married to Chris. Putting her son’s interests first, Kim insists that Ellen and Chris must take Tam and raise him in the United States. Ellen refuses, believing that Tam should stay with his mother, but Kim is resolute and says that Chris should come and tell her himself if he disagrees. Having met Kim, Ellen realises everything in her life is about to change (HER OR ME, replaced first by NOW THAT I’VE SEEN HER and most recently by MAYBE).

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga as Chris and Kim in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga as Chris and Kim in the original production of MISS SAIGON

When Chris and John return, Ellen confronts Chris and demands to know what where his heart lies (THE CONFRONTATION). Chris assures Ellen that he is committed to her, agreeing that Tam should stay with Kim in Bangkok and that Chris and Ellen should offer them financial support. John urges them to reconsider this plan, because he knows that Kim will not accept it.

Meanwhile, Kim returns to her room. She lies to the Engineer, telling him that Chris is coming to fetch them later that evening (PAPER DRAGONS). Overjoyed, the Engineer sings imagines what it will be like to live THE AMERICAN DREAM. Promising Tam that he will have a new life in America, Kim dresses him in his best clothes and prays to her ancestors (THE SACRED BIRD, replaced by THIS IS THE HOUR/LITTLE GOD OF MY HEART – REPRISE). When she hears Chris and the Engineer arrive, she sends Tam out to meet them. She takes out Chris’s gun and shoots herself as Chris runs into the room. Chris cradles Kim in his arms as she dies, wondering how in the light of one night have they have come so far (FINALE).

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s