The musical Miss Saigon by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil premiered in London’s West End in 1989. Loosely based on the Puccini tragic opera Madame Butterfly but updated to take place during the war in Vietnam, Miss Saigon tells the story of Kim, a young girl from the provinces whose only option to support herself when she finds herself alone is to work in a brothel. She meets a young American soldier, Chris, and the two fall in love. They plan for Kim to accompany Chris when the US troops pull out, but in the chaos of evacuation, Kim is left behind. She finds that she is pregnant with Chris’s child. Years later, Chris and the child are reunited; Kim kills herself to force Chris to take their child to America.
Miss Saigon was the second collaboration between Claude-Michel Schönberg, a French composer and producer who was born in 1944, and Alain Boublil, a French lyricist who was born in Tunisia in 1941. Their earlier work together was Les Misérables.
In Miss Saigon, songs such as "The Movie in My Mind," "The Transaction," "The Dance," and "This Money’s Yours" speak to the realities of the horrible and debasing conditions the prostitutes endure and their hope for change. These songs are different from those in many other, more upbeat musicals that often do not show the seedier side of their subject matter. When Kim sings that she “would rather die” than return to her village and the pain of losing her family, she is sincere.
What also sets the musical apart is that the character “the Engineer” has a prominent role and is central to the overall story, despite his distasteful actions and corrupt character. He is a pimp who uses Kim and her child to try to get out of Vietnam to America.