FLASH FRIDAY: MISS SAIGON Turns 24 & The Revival Heat Is On
The follow-up to LES MISERABLES by composing team Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil was eagerly anticipated throughout the late 80s, and, on September 20, 1989, the mega-musical finally premiered at the West End's Theatre Royal Drury Lane - and MISS SAIGON, too, was a sensation. And, now, a 2014 revival awaits!
Welcome To Dreamland
Taking on material seemingly as distant and as far removed from Victor Hugo's famous source material for their first musical as possible, Boublil & Schonberg broached a touchy contemporary topic by directly addressing America's involvement in Vietnam with MISS SAIGON, never shying away from the gritty and gruesome elements of the real-life history. Newcomer Lea Salonga made veritable modern musical theatre magic before the world's eyes with her debut in the title role and Jonathan Pryce excelled, scoring many major awards for his compelling and charismatic turn as the flamboyant CABARET-esque, Emcee-like Engineer. Additionally, Nicholas Hytner's original production was a spectacle on the scale of LES MIZ, PHANTOM, CATS and the other Cameron Mackintosh entertainment supreme's of the era, complete with an onstage levitating helicopter, a several story-high gold statue and much more. Yet, it was the achingly mournful, enormously epic music and the hard scrabble, rough-and-tumble lyrics married with the equal-parts hard-hitting, thrillingly bracing and passionately romantic story at the core that made MISS SAIGON a truly special and note-worthy musical in the great pantheon.
A most unlikely of crowd-pleasers, the devastating drama and the somewhat shocking sexual politics of the piece along with the milieu of the material itself posits MISS SAIGON as an even more unusual audience hit to predict than LES MISERABLES in many ways - yet, step for step, note for note and effect for effect, it equals it in power, presence and overall impact if not outright overwhelms it.
While the songs themselves are perhaps not quite as easily removed and performed alone as those from LES MIZ given that Richard Maltby, Jr.'s very outwardly Americanized take on the lyrics is intentionally conversational and fiercely plot-based for the majority of the almost through-sung score, the song-stack is nevertheless packed with powerful numbers.
Featured player Gigi's "The Movie In My Mind", for example, is as movingly presented and as effectively musically realized as "I Dreamed A Dream" in LES MIZ, to cite but one instance of many. Then, too, the haunting and unforgettable "Last Night Of The World" is just about as romantic a musical theatre number this side of SOUTH PACIFIC's "Some Enchanted Evening" as achievable - and achievement it and the rest of this remarkable score it most assuredly is. The Engineer's "The American Dream" is a show-stopper unlike any other in Boublil & Schonberg's catalog, while Kim's searing "I'd Give My Life For You" is among the finest Act One closers of the period. So, too, is "Bui Doi" a sensational anthem. And, who could forget "I Still Believe", one of the finest female duets in the musical theatre canon? It's unquestionably a stirring and distinguished score worth returning to repeatedly.
On that note, what can we expect from MISS SAIGON as we head into her 25th anniversary year? Well, a big-scale West End revival produced by Cameron Mackintosh himself, no less, as a matter of fact! While details are scant at this very early stage of the game, an opening night has been set and tickets are now on sale following a pink Cadillac-populated kick-off earlier this month featuring appearances by Mackintosh, Boublil and Schonberg.
This is the hour!
Additionally, check out my InDepth InterView with Cameron Mackintosh from earlier this year for preliminary information on the revival and the man behind the musical's thoughts on the property, then and now, available here.
The Last Night Of The World
So, now, let's take a look back at the roots of MISS SAIGON as we prepare for a major revival of the extraordinary MADAME BUTTERFLY-inspired musical now that the heat is definitely on in a big way.
First up, see where it all started and witness Lea Salonga's incredible first audition for MISS SAIGON in this clip from the tremendous behind-the-scenes documentary THE HEAT IS ON: THE MAKING OF MISS SAIGON.
Sample the original Broadway production of MISS SAIGON below.
Next, see Lea Salonga accept the Tony Award for Best Actress In A Musical at the 1991 Tony Awards, coming full-circle.
Jonathan Pryce gave an unforgettable performance in MISS SAIGON and many audience members the world over still talk of his show-stopping turn with "The American Dream". See why, on the 1991 Tony Awards.
Also, witness Pryce's heartfelt Tony Awards acceptance speech.
Salonga and Sean McDermott team up for a strong "Last Night Of The World" on THE Johnny Carson SHOW in 1991.
Now, enjoy Salonga and Claire Moore's "I Still Believe".
Salonga returned to the iconic title role for a Manilla production of MISS SAIGON in 2001, co-starring Broadway notable Will Chase. Experience their sensual "Sun & Moon".
Three alternate endings have been attempted for MISS SAIGON - choose your favorite of all below.
The West End Men - that is, Ramin Karimloo, Stephen Rahman-Hughes and Lee Mead - sing an exceptional trio version of "Bui Doi" in a live concert event captured last year.
Take a listen to the new song penned for the character of Chris's wife, Ellen, as performed by Stephanie J. Block, titled "Maybe". So, will it be the in the revival? Well, maybe!
A tantalizing sneak peek of Patrick Wilson as Chris is available to peruse in this clip of "Why God Why". Wow! What a superb revival lead - or movie player - he would be!
Lastly, view the flashy and visually inspired trailer for the 2014 West End revival of MISS SAIGON.
As a special bonus, hear the very first version of Ellen's solo, here titled "Who Says I'm Hurt?" as performed by Claire Moore at the first London preview on August 1, 1989.
So, what song is your absolute favorite in the riveting and emotionally charged score for Boublil & Schonberg's MISS SAIGON? Furthermore, what moment are looking forward to experiencing live in a theater the most with the forthcoming revival? Whatever the case, let's hope MISS SAIGON plans a return to Broadway following her West End revival bow in 2014.
Until then, we've still got the incredible songs and a solo saxophone.
Photo Credits: Dewynters, etc.