Miss Saigon is a modern adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, and similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her Caucasian lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to the 1970's Saigon during the Vietnam War, and Madame Butterfly's American Lieutenant and Japanese geisha coupling is replaced by a romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl.
The show's inspiration was a photograph, inadvertently found by Schönberg in a magazine. The photo showed a Vietnamese mother leaving her child at a departure gate at Tan Son Nhat Airport to board a plane headed for the United States of America where her father, an ex-GI, would be in a position to provide a much better life for the child. Schönberg considered this mother's actions for her child to be "The Ultimate Sacrifice," an idea central to the plot of Miss Saigon.
Miss Saigon was part of the major European influence on Broadway in the 1980s, along with the musicals Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and Les Misérables.
Since its opening in London in 1989, Miss Saigon was successfully produced in many cities around the world including Stuttgart and Toronto, where new theatres were designed specifically to house the show. In December 1994 the London production became the Theatre Royal's (Drury Lane) longest running musical, eclipsing the record set by My Fair Lady.
Upon its Broadway opening in 1991 the musical was massively hyped as the best musical of the year, both critically and commericially. It broke several Broadway records, including a record advance-ticket sales at $24 million, highest priced ticket at $100, and repaying investors in less than 39 weeks. However, although the show has been laden with awards and acclaim it failed to win Best Musical at the 1989/90 Laurence Olivier Awards in London and at the 1991 Tony Awards.
After the London production closed in 1999 and also following the closure of the Broadway production in 2001 the show in its original London staging embarked on a long tour of the six largest venues in the British Isles and Ireland stopping off in each city for several months. The tour opened at the Palace Theatre, Manchester and also played in the Birmingham Hippodrome, the Mayflower Theatre Southampton, the Edinburgh Playhouse, the Bristol Hippodrome and the The Point Theatre in Dublin. This highly successful tour drew to a close in 2003 and a brand new production was developed by original producer Cameron Mackintosh on a smaller scale so that the show could be accommodated in smaller theatres. This 'new' tour started in July 2004.
Miss Saigon is currently in national and regional productions across the United States and many other countries. The recent UK National tour opened at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth in August 2004, and continued to tour the country into early 2006. The tour has been the most successful of recent times, with venues including Oxford, Milton Keynes, Woking, Norwich, Nottingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Bradford, Belfast, Southampton, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Liverpool and Sunderland. The tour ended in Bristol in June 2006. This production is due to transfer to other countries including Korea and Australia. 
The world high school premiere of Miss Saigon took place in 2006 at St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, New Jersey. Working with MTI (Musical Theater International), the school launched the show on an experimental basis, to see if it was feasible on a high school level. It proved successful, and numerous high schools have since undertaken the production.
Miss Saigon takes place during the years 1975 and 1978. It tells the story of a romance between Chris, an American Marine serving as an Embassy guard in Saigon on the eve of the city's fall to the Communist forces in May 1975, and Kim, a young Vietnamese woman orphaned by the war and forced to work in a Saigon night club/brothel. The two have a reluctant sexual encounter, but end up falling in love despite their initial apprehension. Separated from Kim in the chaos of the American evacuation, Chris is forced to return to the United States and during the next three years the two struggle to deal with the emotional aftermath of their affair.
Simultaneously the plot follows the adventures of the Engineer, a Vietnamese pimp who is also Kim's boss. The Engineer dreams of moving to the United States and living the American dream, but after the war ends, his ambitions are crushed under Vietnam's new Communist government. The Engineer, Kim, and her child Tam (fathered by Chris) eventually escape as "boat people" to Thailand, where they are forced into their former pimp/prostitute roles to survive.
Chris, now married to an American woman named Ellen, learns of Kim's survival and Tam's existence through his former army friend John, who is involved in organising relief work for the mixed blood children left behind in Vietnam by their American fathers. Reunited briefly in Bangkok, Kim finds that her lover now has another wife and (like Madame Butterfly in similar circumstances) she kills herself to ensure a better life for her infant son with his father in America.
While the scenario is a grim one, the music and surging choruses give Miss Saigon a vitality and emotional depth that accounts for the show's enduring popularity. Highlights include the evacuation of the last Americans in Saigon from the Embassy roof by helicopter while a crowd of abandoned Vietnamese scream their dispair, the victory parade of the new communist regime and the frenzied night club scene on the edge of defeat.
The story begins in May 1975 in a Vietnamese club, a few days before the fall of Saigon. It is Kim's first day as a prostitute, and she is greeted by the Engineer, the French-Vietnamese pimp who owns the club. Backstage, all the girls get ready for the night's show and jeer at Kim's naivete as they help her get dressed. ("Overture").
The show starts at the club, and the American Marines and Vietnamese prostitutes party together ("The Heat is on in Saigon"). The Marines know that they are losing the war and are out to have one last fling before leaving Vietnam. We are introduced to Chris (a young, disenchanted Marine who is disgusted with the club scene) and his army friend John. The girls flaunt themselves at the Marines, competing for the title of "Miss Saigon." The winner will be raffled off to a Marine, and in the prostitutes' minds, taken away to America and a better life. Each prostitute takes a turn raunchily trying to impress the marines, and when Kim takes her turn, her innocence and inexperience catch Chris's eye. Gigi, the sexiest dancer, wins the crown for the evening and begs the marine who won the raffle to take her back to America. He refuses and gets annoyed at her cajoling. The scene freezes as all of the prostitutes reflect upon their dreams of men who will be good to them, and a better life in America ("Movie in my Mind"). John, noticing Chris' infatuation with Kim, talks to the Engineer and buys the virgin Kim and Chris a room for the night ("The Transaction"). Kim is reluctant and shy in being a prostitute for the first time, but introduces herself to Chris, and they slowdance to a tune on a solo saxophone. Suddenly, Chris brusquely shoves money at her and tells her she doesn't belong in the nightclub. He tells her to leave, but the Engineer interferes, thinking that Chris doesn't like Kim. Chris affirms that he likes her, so Kim silently leads him to her room ("The Dance").
In the middle of the night, Chris watches Kim sleep. Chris has hated everything in Vietnam, but is completely enchanted with Kim, and asks God why he had to find someone that he would miss right before leaving ("Why God Why?"). When Kim wakes up, Chris tries to give her money but she refuses, telling him that it is her first time sleeping with a man ("This Money's Yours"). Chris doesn't believe her, and asks to know more. Kim tells him the story of how her parents died. Touched, Chris tells her that she doesn't need to sell herself at the club, because he wants her to stay with him. The two fall madly in love with each other ("Sun and Moon"). Chris calls John ecstatically on the telephone, announcing that he is taking leave to spend time with Kim. John tells him he is crazy and will get himself killed because the VietCong are closing in on Saigon. America is in the process of sending people home and retreating before Saigon is captured. Chris begs John to cover for him for a day, and John reluctantly agrees ("The Telephone Song"). Chris meets up with the Engineer for a pre-arranged trade for Kim, but the Engineer tries to weasel an America visa into the deal, as many Vietnamese are trying to escape before the Vietcong arrive. Chris refuses, and the Engineer agrees (at gunpoint) to the original arrangement for Kim ("The Deal").
Kim and the bargirls hold a wedding ceremony for Chris and Kim ("Dju Vui Vai"). During the celebration, Thuy, Kim's cousin and husband by arranged marriage, barges in to rescue her and take her home. He is extremely hurt and angered when he finds her marrying another man ("Thuy's Arrival"). Chris declares "This girl is mine!" and the two men pull out guns and confront each other over Kim. Kim sides with Chris, telling Thuy that their arranged marriage as children is now null because her parents (who promised her to him) are dead. Thuy is furious and curses them all, declaring that all Americans and prostitutes will be gone or dead in the near future, before storming out. Kim is devastated and believes Chris will leave her. Chris says that he will leave Vietnam, but that he is going to take Kim with him. Chris and Kim cling to each other in a dance to a cheesy club song about the "last night of the world," but the song holds extra weight because for the the two of them, it really is the last night of the world ("Last Night of the World").
The story moves forward three years to 1978, Saigon (now renamed Ho Chi Minh City), where a street festival is taking place to celebrate the third anniversary of the reunification of Vietnam and the defeat of the Americans ("Morning of the Dragon"). Thuy, who is a commissar in the new government, has ordered his soldiers to find the Engineer. We discover that the Engineer is still alive, and is still his corrupt and opportunistic self, despite being "re-educated" by the new communist regime. Thuy orders the Engineer to find Kim, who disappeared when the Communists shut down the bars, and bring her back to him.
Kim has been left behind by Chris, and has been living in hiding in an impoverished area. She is still completely in love with Chris and fiercely believes that he will come back to Vietnam to rescue her. Simultaneously, we see Chris sleeping in bed with his new American wife, Ellen. Ellen loves Chris deeply, but longs to know about the past that haunts him, as he suddenly sits up in bed shouting Kim's name. Ellen comforts him back to sleep, and the two women both swear their devotion to Chris at opposite ends of the earth ("I Still Believe").
The Engineer locates Kim and brings Thuy to her. Thuy explains that he has searched three years for her, and asks her to come with him and become his wife. She refuses, devoted to Chris in spite of his absence. Kim shocks Thuy by introducing him to Tam, her three year old son fathered by Chris. Infuriated, Thuy calls Kim a traitor and Tam an enemy, and tries to kill Tam with a knife. Kim pulls out Chris's gun and is forced to shoot Thuy to protect Tam. Thuy dies, with Kim cradling his body. Kim flees with Tam as the street parade continues outside ("You Will Not Touch Him").
Kim runs to the Engineer and tells him what she has done ("If You Want to Die in Bed", "Kim & Engineer"). The Engineer wants nothing to do with it and refuses to help her, until she reveals that Chris is Tam's father. Enchanted, the Engineer is immediately allured by the boy, whom he views as his passport to the United States. He tells Kim that from now on, he is the boy's uncle, and that he will lead them to Bangkok. Kim swears to Tam that she would sacrifice herself to see him have a better life, and the three set out on a ship with other suffering refugees ("I'd Give My Life for You").
1978, Atlanta, Georgia. John now works for an aid organisation whose mission is to connect Bui-Doi (children conceived during the war and left in Vietnam) with their American fathers. In Vietnam, Bui-Doi are subject to prejudice, easily identifiable by their Eurasian faces. John is speaking at a conference, in which he and other veterans plead with their audience to do their obligation as fathers and give aid ("Bui Doi"). After the presentation, John pulls Chris aside, claiming he has important news. John tells Chris that Kim is still alive, which Chris is relieved to hear after years of having nightmares of her dying. However, John goes on to tell Chris about Tam, which is less joyous news as it complicates Chris's current situation-- his wife Ellen doesn't know about Kim. John urges Chris to go to Bangkok with Ellen to meet with Kim, and Chris resolves to finally tell Ellen about Kim before leaving ("The Revelation").
1978, Bangkok. The Engineer has been reduced to working as a hustler enticing tourists to enter sleazy clubs, where Kim works as a dancer ("What a Waste"). Chris, Ellen and John have all traveled to Bangkok in search of Kim. John walks into the club, and is reunited with Kim and the Engineer. Kim is stunned to see John and is thrilled to hear that Chris is in Bangkok. John attempts to gently break it to Kim that Chris is remarried, but before he can get the truth out, Kim interrupts, saying that she already knows the story and to take her to America with Chris. John marvels at Kim's absolute faith in Chris and doesn't have the heart to break the devastating news to her. He promises to bring Chris to her ("Please").
While John goes to bring Chris to Kim, the Engineer tells Kim to go find Chris herself because he doesn't trust that Chris will really come ("Chris is Here"). As Kim prepares to find Chris, she is haunted by the ghost of Thuy. Thuy taunts Kim, claiming that Chris will betray her like he did the night Saigon fell. Kim suffers an intense, horrible flashback to that night ("Kim's Nightmare").
1975, Saigon. Chris and Kim have made plans to escape Vietnam together as the Vietcong approach and Saigon becomes increasingly chaotic. Chris is called to work at the embassy and Kim wants to go with him, but he leaves his gun with her and tells her to pack first, reassuring her that they have plenty of time before they have to leave. Almost immediately after Chris enters the embassy, the gates are closed. Orders from Washington are for a total and complete evacuation of the remaining Americans. The Ambassador orders that no more Vietnamese are allowed into the Embassy. Aware of the situation, Kim reaches the gates of the Embassy, but she is only one of an entire mob of terrified Vietnamese trying to bribe, cajole, and climb their way in. Meanwhile, Chris unsuccessfully tries to call Kim at her room, and is about to go out into the hysterical crowd to look for her. The Americans refuse to let Chris out and John is eventually forced to punch Chris in the face to stop him from leaving. Chris gets into the last helicopter leaving Saigon as Kim watches from behind the gate. Devastated, Kim pledges her love to Chris against all odds. The helicopter takes off with Chris screaming Kim's name.
1978, Bangkok. Kim finds herself back in her room after her flashback, and joyfully dresses in the wedding clothes she was wearing when she and Chris wed ("Sun and Moon: Reprise"). Kim goes to Chris's hotel room, but finds only a woman there when she enters; it is Ellen. Ellen is mortified when she realizes that the woman is Kim, and is forced to tell Kim that she is Chris's wife. Kim is shocked and heartbroken, and refuses to believe Ellen's assertion. Her dreams for Tam's new life in America are shattered when Ellen voices refusal to take Tam to the U.S., wishing instead to help Kim financially from a distance. Infuriated and in denial, Kim demands that Chris must come tell her these things to her face ("Room 317"). Ellen is very upset after the confrontation; she thought that Kim was just a short meaningless fling for Chris, and comes to realize that he lied to her. She feels bad for Kim, but expresses that she loves Chris and will fight to keep him ("Now That I've Seen Her"). Chris returns to the room with John, having not found Kim, and is horrified when Ellen tells him of the angry encounter with Kim. Ellen accuses Chris of not telling her the truth and doubts his love for her. She issues an ultimatum: Kim or her. Chris reassures Ellen that he loves her and tearfully tells her of his experience in Vietnam. They pledge their love for each other, and decide to leave Tam and Kim in Bangkok and offer them monetary support from America, patronizingly rationalizing that Kim "is smart, she'll understand" ("The Confrontation"). The Engineer, who still sees Tam as his ticket to the U.S., dreams extravagantly of the new life he will lead in America. He, Chris, John, and Ellen all go to Kim's room to find her ("The American Dream").
In her room, Kim tells Tam that he should be happy because he now has a father. She tells Tam not to forget her, and that she will be watching over him. Seeing Chris, Ellen, John and the Engineer approaching from a distance, she says goodbye to Tam and kisses him on the forehead. She goes behind a curtain and shoots herself. Chris, Ellen, the Engineer, and John all rush into the room at the sound of the gunshot and find Kim mortally wounded on the floor. Chris runs to Kim and holds her in his arms. Heartbroken, he asks Kim why she has shot herself, and she explains that the gods have guided him to his son. Chris begs her not to die, but she merely asks him to hold her one last time. She echoes a phrase uttered earlier when they first fell in love: "How in one night have we come so far?" As the others watch in horror, Kim dies in Chris's arms. Ellen kneels down and opens her arms to Tam ("Finale").
Miss Saigon led the 1991 Tony Award nominations with 10 nominations. Predicted to be the clear winner for Best Musical, the show was upset by American musical, The Will Rogers Follies for nearly every major award. Though Lea Salonga, Jonathan Pryce and Hinton Battle all won awards, the night is often considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of musical theater.
Miss Saigon was nominated for and won the following Tony Awards in 1991:
In the London production of Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga originally starred as Kim, with Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer. When the production transferred from London to New York City, the Actors' Equity Association refused to allow Jonathan Pryce, a white British actor who had played the Engineer, to recreate the role in America. As Alan Eisenberg, executive secretary of Actors' Equity explained, "The casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community. The casting choice is especially disturbing when the casting of an Asian actor, in the role, would be an important and significant opportunity to break the usual pattern of casting Asians in minor roles." This ruling led to criticism from many including British Equity, and caused producer Cameron Mackintosh to cancel the show despite massive advanced ticket sales. Actors' Equity was concerned about casting discrimination because despite a large, well-publicized international search among Asian actresses to play Kim, there was no equivalent search for Asian actors to play the major Asian male roles (namely Engineer and Thuy) in Miss Saigon. To add to the controversy, Pryce was considered by many to have "star status", a clause that allows a well-known foreign actor to recreate a role on Broadway without an American casting call. However, after pressure from Mackintosh, the general public, and many of its own members, Actors' Equity was forced to reverse its decision, and Pryce starred alongside Salonga and Willy Falk (as Chris) when the show opened on Broadway.
Miss Saigon has experienced criticism from the Asian American community for various racial issues. Originally, Pryce and Burns, white actors playing Eurasian/Asian characters, wore eye prostheses and bronzing cream to make themselves look more Asian, which outraged some who drew comparisons to a "minstrel show." The libretto of Miss Saigon also contains lyrics that many Asians might consider offensive, such as the Engineer's lines: "Greasy chinks make life so sleazy/ in the States I'll have a club that's four-starred" (American Dream) and "Why was I born of a race that thinks only of rice and hates entrepeneurs?" (If You Want to Die in Bed). Furthermore, Miss Saigon contains simplistic portrayals of Asians that perpetuate various stereotypes of Asian women, such as the sexually available vixen, or the submissive China Doll. Miss Saigon, like its predecessor Madame Butterfly, is also a prime example of orientalism in Western arts.
Original London cast