Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics: Alain Boublil
Libretto: Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera “Madame Butterfly”
West End: 20 September 1989
Broadway: 11 April 1991
ROMA Musical Theatre: 9 December 2000
The second big success of the writing duo behind LES MISÉRABLES, namely composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil, the source material for this musical was… an opera. MISS SAIGON is the suitably adapted story of Cio-Cio San, the exotic heroine of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”. Here too, the plot revolves around the relationship between an Asian girl and an American soldier, but in a completely different setting. Instead of Japan at the start of the 20th century, it’s set in Saigon in the 1970s, during the Vietnam War. The biggest difference, however, is the fact that the American soldier, unlike in the opera, genuinely falls in love with the Vietnamese prostitute named Kim.
The composer actually claimed that the direct influence for the musical was not Puccini’s opera but in actual fact… a photograph he chanced upon in the press which showed a Vietnamese mother giving up her child to a US soldier leaving the air base outside Saigon. Driven by doing what’s best for her child, the mother is acting against her own maternal instincts, just like the heroines of both the opera and the musical. However, a tragic fate awaits her…
The musical has been performed in the West End more than 4,000 times, making it one of the most popular shows in musical theatre history (in 2015, it was the 16th most popular show in the West End and the 13th most popular on Broadway). Following its Broadway premiere, several industry records quickly fell. Pre-sale tickets brought in 24 million dollars, with the best seats in the house going for 100 dollars apiece, which enabled the show’s backers to get their money back after just 39 weeks!
To mark the 25th anniversary of the premiere of MISS SAIGON, producer Cameron Mackintosh started production of a new version of the musical in London (casting for the role of Kim was organised in the Philippines). It was performed for the first time on 21 May 2014, but audiences had to wait until 22 September of the same year for the grand anniversary gala when the new cast was joined for the finale by, among others, Lea Salonga and Jonathan Pryce – the unforgettable stars of the main roles in the original show.
The West End revival of MISS SAIGON – widely considered to be even better than the original – will be playing in London until the end of February 2016, but that will by no means signal the end. The show will then move on to Germany and Australia, before returning to Broadway in a year or two to conquer New York for a second time.
And even more good news for lovers of this particular musical: rumours about a film version refuse to die down. Producer Cameron Mackintosh made financing of the project dependent on the success of the film adaptation of LES MISÉRABLES, so it looks like it may just happen after all.
Selected songs: “The Movie in My Mind”, “Last Night of the World” and “The American Dream”.