“Miss Saigon” — which I saw over the Christmas break at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. — owes its narrative to Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” which tells the story of a innocent geisha’s fatal love for an American naval lieutenant in 1904 Nagasaki. In updating the tale to the waning days of the Vietnam War (1975), “Saigon” improves on the story by making the American serviceman — here Marine Sgt. Chris Scott — and his eventual American wife, Ellen, much more sympathetic figures, trapped by circumstances of war rather than being blinded by white privilege.
Having said this, I must add that “Saigon” is no Puccini opera. It’s melodic enough without being memorable in the vein of other one-note Cameron Mackintosh musicals like “Les Miserables,” forcing the singers to belt when they might be better off lilting, particularly in the screeching upper register. Like “Butterfly,” however, “Miss Saigon” remains a potent metaphor for an America that, despite its best intentions is thoughtless, even callous, in its treatment of foreigners, particularly those of color.Read More