“Miss Saigon” at the Paramount and a Night of Mixed Emotions 


Abigail Lee, Copy Editor

On Oct. 31, I went with my uncle and aunt to watch a performance of “Miss Saigon” at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. With innovative set designs like a helicopter that lands on stage, or neon signs that help paint the idea of a bustling corner in Bangkok, “Miss Saigon” seeks to tell a love story between an American G.I. and an orphaned Vietnamese local during the troubling times of the Vietnam War. The performances by the cast were fantastic. For example, the Engineer played by Red Concepción, had by far the best stage presence and charisma in his role, and the performance by Christine Bunuanon as Gigi brought me to tears in the first act. Although I enjoyed the set design and the cast for “Miss Saigon,” the musical’s soundtrack fell short for me. Written by the same creators of “Les Miserables,” Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, the songs are reminiscent, bordering a sound identical to the tracks found on the previously mentioned play. The tune heavy dialogue works in “Les Miserables,” but in “Miss Saigon” it feels poorly paced and a missed opportunity for a more dialogue driven moment to give better clarity to the plot. In general, it felt like the idea of “Madame Butterfly” smashed into the template of “Les Miserables,” which left a result that feels altogether lesser than it’s parts.

Another issue that I had with the musical was the plot. I never held expectations that a Broadway show was working towards having an especially nuanced or realistic plotline; however, their choice of theme and subject left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Even a general education on the Vietnam War from an AP U.S. History class was enough to evoke feelings of discomfort. Having to watch the romanticized sufferings of Kim, a Vietnamese woman abandoned by Chris, a white American G.I. just felt distasteful. I just was not able to conjure up the sympathy that was directed for the pains of leaving Kim behind that Chris had, because ultimately, I knew it was not a matter of life and death for him like it was for her.

There was obviously some thought into “Miss Saigon” to make it realistic enough that it would be reminiscent of the ideas of the Vietnam War, but at the same time, watered down enough so it would be palatable as a romance. They wanted it to be serious in the way that Broadway is, but not too heavy as to become a documentary. I understand that these are the sacrifices we make in order to create and consume entertaining media, but I also believe that there are some tales that should be tread on lightly. If there is going to be the use of the stories of Vietnamese comfort women and those who married American soldiers, then there should be some evidence in the show that those subjects were being treated seriously, but on a more important level, treated with respect. We can talk about how this was a “musical of it’s time,” and “how if no one told these stories who would,” but ultimately, I think we need to be able to look at the media that we absorb and think critically about why something we are watching is the way it is. You can still enjoy something but be able to hold criticism to it too, after all, the past has never been perfect but that does not mean we have to dismiss it’s negatives entirely.