I saw Miss Saigon on Broadway and I need to talk about it.
I had been wanting to see it for years, so when I heard it was coming back to New York I immediately bought tickets.
I headed to the theater not quite knowing what to expect. I only knew the show was heralded on the website as an “epic love story of our time,” and my friends said it would be sad.
Hearing love story, and sad, made me think of The Notebook, a movie about a beautiful love story that was sad in a really uplifting way, if that makes sense.
Well. This was not The Notebook.
(If you have not seen Miss Saigon, stop reading here! I promise you do NOT want the plot to be spoiled before you see the show! So get your tickets here and then read the rest of this post after you’ve gone!)
The show starts in a brothel, as all good musicals do.
These scenes were very raunchy (I’m talking women with their legs spread, with men’s faces very close!) so keep that in mind when bringing children and/or grandparents to see it (I once brought my grandma to see Black Swan and have regretted it ever since, but that’s a different story…)
Anyway, the brothel is run by The Engineer, a slimy, scheming character who you really want to fail, but know he’s unscrupulous enough to succeed in life no matter what.
Then an American solider meets an underage, virgin prostitute, they fall in love, and he promises to bring the still underage, former virgin, former prostitute to America with him.
Then apparently all hell breaks loose, the American soldiers have to evacuate quickly, and still underage, former virgin, former prostitute (we’ll call her Kim, since that is her name and takes far less time to type) is left behind.
Chris, the American soldier, vows to come back for her.
(Side note, the helicoptor scene was very realistic and very cool. It looked like they landed an actual helicopter onstage!)
Up until this point, I was on board with the love story (although a little grossed out by the fact that she’s underage). I can foresee how the show will end. After a few bumps in the road, he will come back for her, they will reunite, and live happily ever after in America.
And then the show takes a depressing, and unexpected, turn.
It moves forward three years, with Saigon under new control and renamed after Ho Chi Minh.
Kim is living as a prostitute in dire conditions, impoverished and struggling to survive, let alone feed the son she had with Chris. She sings a heart-wrenching song about how no matter how bleak things are, she knows Chris will come back for her and then everything will be ok. She has such faith in him, and it’s beautiful to see.
Then the musical shows what Chris is doing three years later. He is in bed with his American wife, who he married only one year after he left Vietnam because he wanted a “fresh start.”
He is still having nightmares about Kim, which I think is intended to make us feel sorry for him too, but with Kim’s life being as horrible as it is, it’s hard to pity Chris’ occasional bad dream.
At this point I began thinking, “What the hell kind of a love story is this?!”
Kim decides to travel to Bangkok and let the U.S. Embassy know about her son, so they will tell Chris and Chris will come back for them. It’s unclear to me why Kim didn’t think of this earlier, but I’m trying not to be too hard on her since she’s now only 20 years old.
The Embassy tells Chris about the child, Chris tells his wife about Kim, and Chris and wife travel to Bangkok to meet his son. Kim is devastated when she finds out Chris has a wife, and learns Chris and wife are only planning on paying for school for Chris Junior (not the child’s actual name), and will not take him with them to America.
Chris’ wife is also devastated when she realizes just how much Chris “loved” Kim (I put love in quotes, because really) and both women end up questioning who Chris loves the most (clearly, the answer is Chris).
By this point the show is seriously depressing, and I’m hoping they will take Chris Junior with them to America so Kim can start over. “She’s only 20,” I’m thinking to myself, “so maybe she can move on, find a different (read: better) love and have a good life.”
But Chris won’t take his son to America, so Kim decides to force his hand. AND KILLS HERSELF! And then Chris kisses Kim, thereby cheating on his wife with a dead girl.
And then curtain, the show is over.
Yep, that’s it. The end.
Calling Miss Saigon the worst love story I’ve ever seen would be an understatement. It is awful, to the point where I’m wondering whether the website was talking about a mother’s love for her child rather than romantic love. Because that at least was an unselfish love story.
Despite my strong feelings on the plot, I absolutely recommend seeing it. The story draws you in, plays with your emotions, and leaves you absorbed in every minute of the production. You definitely won’t leave happy, humming the chorus to yourself, as with most musicals. But it is certainly a show worth seeing.
Miss Saigon is only back on Broadway for a limited time, so get your tickets as soon as possible. You can find them here.
Here’s hoping your love story is better than Kim’s!