Miss Saigon is by no means a light and fun play, I have to say. For those of you who don't know the plot I'll be giving a short synopsis in a minute, but first let's give the warnings of any content that some readers may find inappropriate. My language, as always in my blog, will be clean and I will not use any swear words or offensive language, but the lyrics and the plot of Miss Saigon include some very unpleasant words and references, including: extremely derogatory references to women, swear words, some negative language about Asians (though it's nowhere near the ugliest I have heard), prostitution, two deaths by gunshot and general things to do with war. I hope I remembered everything noteworthy.
And now let's move on to Miss Dashwood's tag, there are some nice questions to answer!
1. What musical did you pick to "spotlight" this week and why?
I chose Miss Saigon by Boublil and Schönberg because I fell in love with most of its songs the minute I heard them (they are just as brilliantly composed as the score of Les Misérables!) and the story is extremely beautiful and tragic. I also liked the idea of spotlighting a musical that is currently under much discussion because Miss Saigon is returning to the West End and it's been very exciting hearing all the news regarding the new production!
Just in case there are readers who don't know the story of Miss Saigon, here's a short plot synopsis: Chris is an American GI who fights in the Vietnam War, and Kim is a young Vietnamese woman whose family was killed in an attack. The two meet at a night club where Kim works as a bar girl and a prostitute. The owner of the night club is the Engineer, a slimy character who only wants to get an American visa so he can move there and live "the American Dream". Chris and Kim instantly fall in love and Chris promises to take her with him to America, but then the Fall of Saigon happens. The Viet-Cong invade Saigon and all the American soldiers, including Chris, are evacuated while Kim is left behind.
Three years later, Kim is raising her and Chris' son Tam, while Chris has got married in America in an effort to get over his grief. The Engineer thinks up a plan to get into America – he thinks he will get the visa if he pretends to be the uncle of Kim's half-American child. Kim, Tam and the Engineer travel to Bangkok, where Chris also arrives with his wife Ellen after receiving news that Kim is alive and has had his son. Kim wants to send Tam to America with his father, but Chris and especially Ellen think it's a better idea if they support Kim and Tam financially in Bangkok. Kim is so desperate for her son to have a better life in America that she shoots herself.
2. How did you discover the musical you picked (hereinafter referred to as "your musical")?
I first got obsessed with Les Misérables and then found out that Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg had made other musicals too. I found the Original London Cast recording and fell in love.
3. If you had to pick three favorite songs from your musical, which ones would they be?
Oh dear, only three songs from a score where at least every other song is my favourite? Okay, I'll try...
- The Last Night of the World, a beautiful love duet by Kim and Chris
- This Is The Hour, a stunning ensemble number, the harmonies give me chills every time
- The Movie In My Mind, a duet by Kim and Gigi, another bar girl
I'll be discussing more of my favourite songs somewhere during the week...
4. What's your least favorite song from your musical?
I don't think any of the songs are bad, but the one I definitely like the least is The American Dream, sung by the Engineer near the end of the show. He sings about how he's going to make a fortune in America, which he basically said already somewhere earlier. The way he talks about his mother and father's professions is really quite disgusting and the composition isn't as memorable as in the other songs.
5. Who are your favorite characters (choose up to three)?
Kim, because she is such a well-developed character and has so many great songs. It's probably one of the hardest musical roles to cast – the original London production's auditions went on for a long time before Lea Salonga was found, and even now they're still looking for a Kim for the London revival.
Gigi, because she's an interesting character too even though she doesn't have much stage time. First she appears to be completely hardened by life, teasing Kim with the other girls. Then she starts singing The Movie In My Mind and reveals the hope she still has in her heart even though she knows it's foolish.
Ellen, because she is in such a difficult position regarding Chris and Kim. It would be easy to hate her for "taking Chris away" from Kim, but I can't because Ellen suffers from the situation too. I think her solo Now That I've Seen Her is great. It has been replaced by a new song Maybe, and I can't wait to see if I can like that song too.
6. Which versions of your musical have you seen/listened to, and which is your favorite?
Unfortunately I haven't seen Miss Saigon on stage at all yet. There was a production in Finland in 2004, but I wasn't such a musical freak back then so I didn't know anything about it. Only two cast recordings exist: the Original London Cast recording and the Complete Symphonic Recording. I like the first one better, because Lea Salonga and Simon Bowman are so amazing as Kim and Chris.
7. Is this your favorite musical of all time? If not, what is?
It's definitely in my Top Ten list, but not the ultimate favourite. That is... Les Misérables!
8. Which cast album/musical soundtrack in your collection do you listen to the most?
I haven't really kept track of that... Lately, I've been listening to the Miss Saigon OLC a lot to get inspired for this blog party. The Les Mis 25th Anniversary Tour recording is definitely one of my favourite cast recordings which I listen to a lot.
9. What is your favorite costume from your musical?
Actually, Miss Saigon isn't filled with lovely costumes like The Phantom of the Opera, My Fair Lady and such. Most of the men wear army uniforms and most of the women wear, well, skimpy clothes. Kim wears something tattered and unattrctive most of the time. However, there is one scene where she gets to dress up nicely – the wedding scene. I couldn't find a better picture of it, but here you can see Kim, kneeling in that white dress:
10. If you could change anything about your musical, what would you change?
I would want to make it clearer that Chris was just as devastated about being parted from his beloved as Kim was, and that he only married Ellen after losing all hope of being reunited with Kim. Chris gets a lot of hate from fans because people think he married Ellen without looking back and forgot all about Kim. I think it would be good for him to have a proper solo in the second act, either right after he finds out he has a son, or when he has arrived in Bangkok. He could sing about what his life was like after he left Kim behind, and what led to his marriage with Ellen.
11. Which role(s) would you most like to play in any musical, if you had the opportunity to do so on stage?
I think Éponine is my number one dream role in a musical! She has great songs and gets to die on stage after singing a touching duet with Marius, and then gets carried off by singing young men. Not bad at all! And I really like that hat she wears.
Another great role to play would be Eliza Doolittle. She's such a funny character, and quite demanding too as you'd have to portray both the Cockney-speaking flower seller and the "fair lady" she becomes. I love all the four solo songs she has!
I've been planning a separate "My Dream Roles In Musicals" post so I won't go on about this forever, but other great roles to play would be Maureen Johnson in RENT, Nancy in Oliver! and Ilse in Spring Awakening. Just to name a few...
12. If you could choose one performer to play any part in your musical, who would you choose and which part would you have them play?
I really have just one wish about the upcoming West End revival: Please, please, please have Gareth Gates play Chris! I absolutely adored his voice as Marius on the Les Mis 25th Anniversary Tour recording, and I think he could express Chris perfectly! He's even sung Chris' solo Why God Why!
13. Do you consider yourself a musical theatre fan in general or do you just like a few musicals?
Musical theatre as a form of art is pure awesomeness! Alright there's bound to be some musicals that I don't like that much, but not very many!
14. Are you tired of the word "musical" yet?
No I'm not, and I never will be!
15. Turn your music playing device on shuffle (or utilize Pandora if you don't have one) and tell us the names of the first three show tunes that come up-- no cheating! How do these rank on your favorites/most-listened-to list?
- The Bitch Of Living from Spring Awakening – I listen to Spring Awakening from time to time. It's not one of my absolute favourite musicals but there are some things I really like about it. This song is angsty in a really funny kind of way... Or maybe it's just my weird sense of humour.
- Any Dream Will Do from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – It's an OK song, nice and mellow. Again, this isn't on my favourite musicals list, I think it's weird though kind of fun too.
- Sympathy, Tenderness from Jekyll & Hyde – I discovered this musical quite recently, haven't listened to the cast recording enough yet to really give my proper opinion about the songs. This one does have an interesting, eerie atmosphere.
So the blog party has begun... Have a great week with musicals everyone!