30 Days Of The 2014 Tony Awards: Day #23 - MISS SAIGON
Today we continue the 2014 edition of our annual BroadwayWorld feature series spotlighting the very best Tony Awards-related moments of all time with a special focus on a multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway musical currently being revived in the West End, MISS SAIGON.
This Is The Hour
Basing a musical on Puccini's MADAME BUTTERFLY and setting it in war-torn Vietnam may not seem to be a particularly daring or outrageously audacious concept now, but back in the late-1980s when work had begun on MISS SAIGON, producer Cameron Mackintosh was well aware of the many ways in which his currently-gestating musical could go once up on its feet - flop, hit or also-ran. Given that the creative team for the new show was comprised of LES MISERABLES composing team Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, outfitted with American lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and helmed by acclaimed director Nicholas Hytner, the creators and their resumes alone made it look like a recipe for success in retrospect, though the drama and unforseen hurdles that the production faced in making its way to the stage - and, most of all, Broadway - were heavily pronounced and painstakingly dissected in the press at the time. After all, how would the man behind CATS, LES MISERABLES and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA possibly measure up with his newest main-stage musical endeavor coming after such gargantuan hits as those? Well, with something completely different, that is.
Featuring three central performances which would go on to win major acting Tony Awards, MISS SAIGON showcased the stunning debut of a new presence by the name of Lea Salonga, who gracefully and unforgettably essayed the title role, while acclaimed stage and screen star Jonathan Pryce was controversially cast as the European/Asian pimp emcee figure known as The Engineer. A casting brouhaha broke out all over Broadway when Mackintosh confirmed his desire to bring Pryce over with Salonga and the rest of the production for its 1991 Broadway bow, with opponents citing the lack of Asian lead roles available and decrying Mackintosh's choice to not see anyone new for the part following Pryce's Laurence Olivier Award-winning turn in the West End. Can he be blamed? Furthermore, was it really Mackintosh's fault, anyway - particularly when producing a show gainfully employing so many Asian cast-members (certainly more than any other Broadway musical at the time, natch) in the first place? In any event, in another colorblind casting coup, Mackintosh cast an African American in the role of John, who was originally played by a white actor in the West End, and Hinton Battle took the top prize for Best Featured Actor In A Musical for his efforts. The edict seemed to be the best actor got the role, not merely the most racially-applicable option, in all three cases.
So, now, let's return to 1991 to see MISS SAIGON on the Tony Awards, with Jonathan Pryce stopping the show with "The American Dream".
Also, see Lea Salonga accept her Tony Award for Best Actress In A Musical.
As a special bonus, Lea Salonga returns to the Tony Awards ceremony with a Richard Rodgers gem.
What exactly is it about MISS SAIGON that inspires and excites you the most? Is it the thrilling score? The rich performance opportunities? The exotic, alluring atmosphere? Whatever it is, with a new West End revival currently in previews, it seems quite clear that we will be welcoming back this mega-musical on Broadway some season very, very soon. This is the hour!