Monday, April 11, 2011

broadway birthday- Miss Saigon opened on Broadway 20 years ago today on April 11, 1991

Twenty years ago today Miss Saigon opened on Broadway.  It would go on to play for over 4000 performances, ending it's run almost 10 years later on January 28, 2001.

Miss Saigon was the second musical for the composing team of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, following their smash debut just a few years before with Les Miserables.  The musical was first produced in London, where it opened on September 20, 1989.   The London run also lasted just over 10 years.  Directed by Nicholas Hytner and with additional lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., the show is currently the 10th longest running show in Broadway history.

The story of the musical is based on the opera Madama Butterfly, the tragic story set in early 1900's Japan of an Asian women, Butterfly, and the American Naval officer who leaves her with child, only to return a few years later, remarried, upon which Butterfly kills herself leaving the officer and his new wife to raise the child.  For Saigon, the setting was changed to Vietnam, the year to the mid 1970's and the officer is now a sergeant in the Marines.  The musical was inspired by a photo that Schönberg saw in a magazine of a Vietnamese woman giving her child away to board an airplane for the US to be raised by the child's father, an American GI, where the woman knows the child's life will be better.

Pryce and Salonga
The original London stars Jonathan Pryce and Lea Salonga appeared in the Broadway production, with the casting of Pryce raising a huge controversy since he was a white Englishmen playing an Asian character.  The show's producer Cameron Mcintosh even threatened to not bring the show over if Pryce wasn't cast.   This controversy, plus the hype of the scene where a helicopter lands on stage, only heightened the press engine behind the show.  All of these factors, along with the combination of taking Butterfly and changing the setting to be against the Vietnam war proved successful, and Saigon ended up having a record for advance sales of over $24 million.

While the musical would ultimately not win the Tony award for Best Musical (The Will Rogers Follies took that honor) - it did win Tony's for Pryce and Salonga as well as for Hinton Battle who played the Marine Sergeant Chris' friend John.  The show also lost the Oliver Award in London for Best Musical, though Salonga did win for Best Actress.

The infamous helicopter scene.
For the original Broadway run, Willy Falk played Chris and Liz Callaway played Chris' American wife, Ellen.  Unfortunately a Broadway cast recording was never made.

I was fortunate enough to see the show with the entire original Broadway cast early in the run as well as saw it later in the run when Salonga returned to the part of "Kim."

My favorite songs from the show:

The Movie in My Mind
Why, God, Why?
Sun and Moon
I Still Believe
I'd Give My Life for You

Amazon link for Miss Saigon (Original 1989 London Cast)

Amazon link for the dvd of The Making of "Miss Saigon"

Salonga and Simon Bowman- London cast - sing "Sun and Moon"

Pryce sings "American Dream" on the Tony Awards -

London cast - "I Still Believe"

1 comment:

  1. I went to see this musical 20 years ago and have seen 1oo more after that. Miss Saigon is by far the one that I loved the most. I can't believe that 20 years have gone by!