Theatre: Miss Saigon

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-Date Accidental 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. The curtain falls.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Played With.
    • Reversed: it's Chris who moved on and Kim who stayed faithful.
    • Justified: he thought she was dead, a reasonable conclusion under the circumstances.
    • Subverted: guilt left him in bad shape—The Mourning After lasted for more than a year, he suffers from nightmares, and has problems confiding in Ellen about the trauma he went through.
  • Accidental Marriage:
    Chris: It's pretty, but what does it mean?
    Kim: It's what all the girls sing at weddings.
    Chris: (Double Take)
    Kim: They didn't know what else to sing.
    Chris: ...It's the prettiest thing I ever heard.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Pinkerton, Chris's counterpart in Madame Butterfly, was a massive Jerkass. Chris in this musical is presented as more of a Nice Guy. Kim is also a massive upgrade over Cio-Cio San, losing the naivete and gaining the iron will that her counterpart lacked. The writers seem to have reasoned that Vietnam was such a tragedy on its own that they can offload all of the fault onto it. They're right — nobody in the cast (save Thuy) is a bad person, and they're all doing the best they can, and it just doesn't matter because this horrible war and its horrible end just came in like a force of nature and rolled over them all. This gives the tragedy a truly nasty sting that was lacking from the source material.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Ellen isn't necessarily a bad person, but her not wanting to take Tam is a complete 180 from Kate, her counterpart in Butterfly, who promised to raise and love Butterfly's son as if he were her own.
    • Even Chris gets a little of this. For all his Jerkass ways in Butterfly, Pinkerton genuinely wants to make amends by taking his son to America. Chris on the other hand is willing to leave Tam in Vietnam. Even with the monetary support he's committed to making, he's still turning a blind eye to the bigotry the child will still face.
    • Thuy also. His counterpart in the original disowns Butterfly and condemns her for her actions, but he disappears after the first act. Thuy resurfaces and tries to kill Tam.
  • America Saves the Day: Subverted. Even mocked In-Universe by Chris:
    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.
  • Asian Babymama
  • Big "NO!": Depending on how much scenery Chris wants to chew.
    • 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!"
  • Blatant Lies:
    • "The Ambassador won't leave until everyone's out!"
    • Also at the end, when Kim tells the Engineer that Chris was overjoyed to see her and is coming to take them all to America.
  • Boomerang Bigot: The Engineer refers to Tam as a "half-breed brat" even though he himself is half French.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: When John finds Kim, he can't bring himself to tell her that Chris has moved on and married. Ostensibly because he feels it's Chris' place to do so, but mostly because Kim is overjoyed at the prospect of reuniting with Chris and he can't bring himself to break her heart.
  • 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.
  • Character Development: John seems like an apathetic callous asshole (verging on Sociopathic Soldier) in act one, but once he gets back to the US he deeply regrets his actions - and by extension the entire USA's actions - in the war, becomes involved in charity organizations as a result, and effectively becomes The Atoner.
  • 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.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: The fact that this suddenly got overturned by the Asian Hooker Stereotype is a big part of what drove Thuy off the deep end.
  • 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.
  • Crosscast Role: Tam. He's a toddler and has no lines, so it scarcely matters.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Thuy dies in Kim's arms and she dies in Chris' arms.
  • Dies Wide Open: Thuy, at least according to "Kim's Nightmare:"
    Thuy: This is the face you saw that day
    Staring at you with open eyes.
  • Downer Ending: It's based on an Opera, what were you expecting?
  • Eagleland: The Engineer's song, "The American Dream".
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Engineer.
  • Expy: Virtually every main character is a recreation of his/her counterpart in Madame Butterfly.
    • Kim is Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly).
    • Chris is B. F. Pinkerton.
    • The Engineer is Goro.
    • John is Sharpless.
    • Ellen is Kate.
    • Thuy is The Bonze and Prince Yamadori.
    • Tam is Dolore ("Sorrow").
    • Also, the scene in Butterfly where Cio-Cio San's uncle shows up at her wedding to denounce her for her actions is echoed in when Thuy shows up at Chris and Kim's apartment to do precisely the same thing, along with threatening the happy couple.
  • Fading into the Next Song: The final notes of "Last Night Of The World" segue into the opening notes of "The Morning Of The Dragon".
  • Final Speech: Kim.
  • Five Second Foreshadowing: Pay attention to the music that plays just before Kim fatally shoots herself. It's the same music from Act I when she sings "I have had my fill of pain, I will not go back again, I would rather die."
  • Foregone Conclusion
  • Foreshadowing: Present in the majority of the songs in the show.
    • 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. He sings, "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 experiencing 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.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Kim.
    Chris: She's no whore; you saw her too.
    She's really more, like... The April moon.
  • Heroic BSOD: Chris is said to have suffered one lasting a full year after losing Kim during the Fall of Saigon.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Although she's devastated to see that Chris has moved on, Kim almost instantly puts her feelings aside in order to beg Ellen to take Tam to America so that he can have a better life, then kills herself to ensure this.
  • He Who Must Not Be Heard: Tam is a silent role.
  • Honest John's Dealership: The Engineer.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Kim, in name only. She isn't presented as being particularly sexualized; in fact, her appeal to Chris seems to be more on the grounds of Nature Adores a Virgin.
    Kim: I'm seventeen, and I'm new here today
    The village I come from seems so far away
    All of the girls know much more what to say,
    But I know: I have a heart like the sea
    A million dreams are in me!
    Chris: Good Jesus John who is she???
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die
  • 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?"
  • "I Want" Song: "The Movie In My Mind" and "The American Dream".
  • I Will Wait for You: Kim has pledged this to herself for Chris during the three years she spent without him.
  • Kissing Cousins: Thuy is certainly hoping to make this happen, but Kim (the cousin in question) wants no part of it.
  • Large Ham: Come on, guys. It's a musical. (As Bridget Jones puts it, "Strange men standing around with their legs apart bellowing songs straight ahead.")
  • Last Kiss: Chris and Kim kiss one last time leading to the Ironic Echo quoted above.
  • 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.
  • Lovable Traitor: If the Engineer isn't a Lovable Rogue, he's probably this.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Or perhaps two instances of Love Triangles between Chris, Kim, and Thuy, and between Kim, Chris, and Ellen.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Thuy's complete devotion to Kim, even after all those years, leads to him trying to kill her child in order to keep their honor. Might also be see as an Alternative Character Interpretation.
  • Mama Bear: Both Kim and Ellen, especially during their one meeting. Even though Ellen doesn't have kids yet.
  • Mood Whiplash: The end of "Last Night of the World", one of Kim and Chris' love songs, segues right from the ending notes into the Villain Song, "Morning of the Dragon."
    • In the original London production, the very sad song "The Sacred Bird" (Kim preparing Tam to meet Chris and bid him farewell) abruptly segues into an instrumental reprise of the raucous, upbeat, "American Dream", which itself abruptly ends with a gunshot.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Thuy threatens this against Chris. Then Kim actually does it to him (granted, he was declaring his intention to kill her son at the time, so her response was far from unjustified.) (Then she does it to herself!)
  • Nonindicative Name: Kim does not actually win the "Miss Saigon" pageant. However, Gigi toasts Kim as the "real" Miss Saigon due to Kim and Chris falling in love and believing Kim will leave Saigon.
  • Percussive Prevention: John knocks Chris out to prevent him from leaving the embassy to find Kim.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Twice: once after Kim shoots Thuy, and once after she shoots herself.
  • Please Select New City Name: Saigon actually was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Most of its residents don't call it that, though.
  • Race Lift:
    • Towards the end of the show's Broadway run, the role of Ellen, typically played by a white actress (specifically, a blonde or redhead) was cast with Margaret Ann Gates, who is Asian, resulting in a likely example of the Replacement Goldfish trope—it now seemed as though Chris married Ellen only because she reminded him of Kim, rather than to move on with his life.
    • The role of John was initially played by a white actor, but soon replaced with African-American ones.
  • Recurring Dreams: Implied by Ellen's lyrics in "I Still Believe", when she says, "Last night. . .once more the nightmare came", just a few minutes before Chris wakens from yet another bad dream.
  • Say My Name: "KIIIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMMM!" Sometimes during "I Still Believe", during the fall of Saigon, and at the end, which can be combined with a Big "NO!" depending on the actor.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying!: The opening scenes, "The Heat Is On In Saigon". Despite the raucous atmosphere, the lyrics demonstrate that the soldiers are desperate for one last fling, and that the girls are desperate for one last chance to escape Vietnam.
  • Security Cling:
    • Kim and Chris to each other during the song "The Last Night Of The World". "So stay with me and hold me tight. . ."
    • Chris and Ellen throughout "I Still Believe" sometimes with a Sexy Discretion Shot at the end. Understandable, as she's comforting him after a nightmare.
    • Kim to Chris at the end of the play.
  • Sexophone: Lampshade Hanging within the musical itself.
  • 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.
  • Son of a Whore: The Engineer. Tam as well.
  • 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.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Ellen. Had she not reacted so badly to the idea of taking Tam, Kim might not have felt it necessary to kill herself in order to ensure that they would.
  • 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.
  • Wartime Romance: Chris and Kim. There's even a wedding ceremony at one point, though it's just a formality and not legally binding.
  • Wham Shot: In "I Still Believe", we see Kim alone in a hovel. . .and Chris thousands of miles away in bed with his new wife. Aside from the confusion as to how they ended up like this, given that the last we saw of them was them blissfully happy, with this revelation, we know the show is going to end sadly somehow.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: John gives this to Ellen and Chris regarding their decision to leave Tam and Kim in Bangkok with monetary support, a decision that they try to spin as best for all involved but in truth is about maintaining their own comfort, telling them that they "are talking like fools" and seeming downright disgusted with them at one point; "I hope you two are proud of what you just as said."
  • Would Hurt a Child: Thuy tries to stab Tam dead for being Chris' bastard son. Tam is two years old.
  • 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).