I caught this documentary a few months ago about the making of Miss Saigon twenty years ago. It’s a fascinating insight into how a show on this scale is made and an embarrassing glimpse at the fashions of the 1980’s – curly perms and legwarmers abound!
By Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. It is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, and similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to the 1970s 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 musical premiered at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in London on 20 September 1989, closing after over four thousand performances, on 30 October 1999 (putting it in the top 10 longest running West End musicals). The musical represented Schönberg and Boublil’s second major success, following Les Misérables which is mentioned in the passing here – little do they know that Les Mis would reach 26 years in the West End and going stronger than ever. The original production starred a very young Simon Bowman, (pictured above with Lea Salonga) and Jonathan Pryce, Peter Polycarpou, Monique Wilson and Claire Moore. Twenty years on Bowman is still starring in the West End – last seen as a magnificent Jean Valjean in Les Mis.
The most uncomfortable thing about the whole thing was the casting of the very Anglo-Saxon Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer (seen below), a character who is clearly Eurasian. The fact that at the time the taping down of his eyes is of no consequence, really jars today. It shows just how much things have changed. Incidentally he’s not the only English actor with taped up eyes!!!
It’s an interesting watch, if, for nothing else, to see how badly the actors are treated!