Madame Butterfly, The Musical. Penned by the legendary composers of Les Misérables (Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil), Miss Saigon is a reworking of Giacomo Puccini's 1904 opera for more contemporary audiences, by moving it to some new place, specifically The Vietnam War (setting) and Broadway (venue).The date is April 1975. A group of American Marines are out for one last night on the town, since they will be pulling out of Saigon soon. They visit a sleazy nightclub called "Dreamland" run by an Honest John known as The Engineer, and populated by a number of hookers, including Kim, a 17-year-old girl who would probably be The Ingenue if it weren't for her profession. She catches the eye of Chris, one of the marines; his friend John makes the arrangements, and the Official Couple get together. However, after finding out that Kim is a Heartwarming Orphan, Chris offers to take her back to America with him. Of course, this is easier said than done, since the Vietcong are going to be moving in on Saigon in a matter of days. Even better, Kim and Chris' Fourth-DateAccidental Marriage is interrupted by Thuy, joint victim of a Childhood Marriage Promise their parents made. Of course, Kim's parents are dead, she loves Chris long time, and Thuy has gone over to the Dirty Communists, so Kim's not going for it. Thuy promises revenge and storms out again.Time Skip to 1978, Ho Chi Minh City (what Saigon was renamed after the Dirty Communists took it over). Kim is still there, living in poverty. Even though three years have passed, she is still devoted to Chris, and has been waiting for him to rescue her. Chris is asleep with his new American wife, Ellen, as it appears Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder. (Maybe. He still has Catapult Nightmares about the last time he saw her: in a crowd of would-be refugees being gunned down by the Commies.) Kim is still being stalked by Thuy, though, and reveals her motivation for Holding Out for a Hero: she and Chris have a son, Tam. Thuy goes a little Ax-Crazy over this and Kim has to shoot him. She then goes to The Engineer, who points out that Tam having an American father ups their chances of being allowed to emigrate to America. As the curtain falls, they book passage to Bangkok as the first leg of this journey.Act Two opens in America, where John is deeply involved in an American charity organization that helps with the aftermath of the war, specifically, linking American fathers to their "bui doi" (interracial) children. He tells Chris about Kim and Tam, which leaves Chris in the uncomfortable position of telling Ellen exactly why he wakes up yelling Kim's name sometimes; the three travel to Bangkok for some sort of family reunion. (Meanwhile, we have a Flashback to the Fall Of Saigon, where it turns out that Chris did his darnedest to get Kim out with him; in fact, John had to punch him to keep him from not boarding the chopper.) Kim goes to Chris' hotel room but finds only Ellen, who is not unsympathetic to her plight but doesn't want to be second fiddle to one of her husband's byblows. Ellen issues Chris an ultimatum - her or me - and Chris agrees to limit his contact with Kim and Tam to monetary support sent from America. Of course, Kim isn't particularly happy about this, so once the Americans are at her front door, she takes the only action left her: she shoots and kills herself, leaving Tam's fate entirely in American hands. The curtain falls.
Chris:Christ, I'm American, how could I fail to do good?
Anti-Villain: The Engineer. Sure, the antagonist role is filled more by Thuy, but he dies during the first act. Nonetheless, the Engineer is a scoundrel, but you can't help but like him. He's clearly an entrepreneur — someone who would be a lot more comfortable in America than Vietnam. Furthermore, it appears that he's just as desperate to escape the poverty and violence of Vietnam as the girls he pimps out—it's implied that he's had a hard life due to his biracial heritage. His methods may be greedy and self-serving, but given his motives, it's hard to hate him completely. And he even manages to have a few Pet the Dog moments—in some versions of the ending, he's holding Tam as the fatal gunshot rings out and instantly dives to protect him, then just as quickly shields him from seeing his mother's body
Ascended Extra: In the initial London production, Ruthie Henshall was one of the nameless bar girls. Several years later, she was cast in the role of Ellen. In fact, many of the actresses playing the bar girls eventually took on the role of Kim or Ellen.
Ellen and The Engineer's role are far more expanded than their counterparts in Madame Butterfly.
This actually happens twice. Once by Kim after she fatally shoots Thuy, and the other by Chris after Kim fatally shoots herself.
Three times in some versions, if you count Chris flying away in the chopper shouting, "KIM!"
Catapult Nightmare: Chris bolts upright in bed after yet another bad dream about Kim. Depending on the actress, Kim herself often does this following her flashback to when she and Chris were separated during the fall of Saigon.
Chekhov's Gun: Done literally, twice, with Chris' gun - this actually follows the original "see a gun in the first act, fire it in the third" formula very well.
Counterpoint Duet: "I Still Believe", sung by Kim and Ellen. The main "counterpoint" is the setting—Kim is alone in a hovel in Saigon while Ellen is in a comfortable bedroom in America, sitting next to the sleeping Chris. Their lyrics are actually quite similar—each woman sings of her love for Chris, Kim of how much she misses him and hopes to be reunited with him, Ellen of wishing that he would confide in her and stop keeping her at arms' length.
Cut Song: "Too Much For One Heart", sung by Kim. Lea Salonga still keeps it in her concert repertoire and with good reason. There is also the finale "The Sacred Bird", heard initially when the show opened in London, but since pared down.
Ellen's solo, "Her or Me", heard on the London Cast Recording, is modified into "Now That I've Seen Her" in all others, basically by replacing the first line with the second.
Inverted in the London revival, as Ellen has been given a new song, "Maybe", intended to generate more sympathy for her, an often reviled character.
Foreshadowing: Present in the majority of the songs in the show but it's Kim's song "I'd Give My Life For You" that really takes this trope and hits the audience over the head with it, as it turns out this is exactly what she ends up doing.
One extremely subtle example from Chris when John tells him that Kim is alive:
Chris: You don't know, John, these nightmares, the things that I've seen / I have seen her face burned, seen her shot with my gun.
Guess what Kim uses to kill herself with.
Half-Breed Discrimination: Kim is trying to prevent her son from becoming this, knowing full well that he will be shunned because he's the half-white illegitimate son of an American GI. Indeed, the fact that her cousin Thuy tried to KILL the boy demonstrates how rampant the feelings of contempt towards such children are.
Even The Engineer might count as this. One wonders if he may have had the chance to be more than a pimp had he not been the illegitimate son of a prostitute and her Frenchman customer.
Discussed in the song "Bui Doi," John's (In-Universe) pitch to fellow GIs.
Ironic Echo: Kim's final line showed up previously when the two were pledging their love. In the song "Sun and Moon," just as they were falling in love, Chris asks Kim, "How in the light of one night did we come so far?" In the "Finale," just before she dies in his arms, she asks him "How in one night have we come... so far?"
The Lost Lenore: Kim and Chris to each other. For both, for how they were wrenched apart during the Fall of Saigon. For him, for those three years where he's uncertain if she's dead or alive—and when she ultimately kills herself, for her, for those three years that they were apart, only to find that he's moved on and gotten married.
Lovable Rogue: Sure, the Engineer is a scoundrel, but he's so charismatic that you can't help but like him.
Sexy Discretion Shot: The lights begin to dim as Kim and Chris undress, then go out completely as they get into bed. There's similar staging for his love scene with Ellen.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Chris, as he often has nightmares of his time during the war. Also combined with his falling in love with Kim, of course.
The lyrics of "Bui Doi" indicate John is pretty shaken up too, even if he's in better shape than Chris.
Shoot the Money: Theater writer Peter Filichia wrote in the book Let's Put on a Musical that the probable reason the story is told out of sequence was so the show's big special effect — the last helicopter taking off during the fall of Saigon — could be saved for the second act.
Single Mom Stripper: Kim becomes this after Tam is born, although she had started work as a pole dancer before anyway.
Subliminal Advertising: Look very closely at the helicopter logo: you can see the face of a woman in the slipstream. Props go to the graphic designer, who was asked by Cameron Mackintosh to include the face of a woman somehow in the logo.
Tempting Fate: Thuy's last words to Kim are, "You don't know how to kill!" He says this about five seconds before she shoots him dead.
Time Skip: Halfway through the first act. "Last Night Of The World" ends with Chris and Kim embracing on a balcony. The ending notes segue right into the beginning of the next song, "The Morning Of The Dragon", commemorating the third anniversary of the reunion of Vietnam.
Villain Song: "The American Dream" is The Engineer's big villain song, though almost every other bit part he sings can count too. The ironic thing is that The Engineer isn't an antagonistic character, he's just a sleazy businessman.
"The Morning of The Dragon", which is a Viet Cong platoon's marching song as they burn down a village.
Yellowface: In the original West End (London) debut, the Engineer was played by white actor Jonathan Pryce. This was extremely controversial, but it didn't stop him from winning a Tony Award for his performance.
It was also counter-argued that the Engineer is Eurasian (half-Vietnamese and half-French).