If you didn’t get to see the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance’s summer production of Miss Saigon, which we were excited was sold out for many of the 14 performances, then don’t worry, but I still wanted to share some of my thoughts, observations, and reflections about some of the scenes in this 12-longest running Broadway musical!
(And, I also wanted to share an acoustic song I wrote, called “A Million Things,” about the struggles between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl that take place during “The Heat is On in Saigon” bar scene).
I learned and grew a lot in this challenging role of Kim and have tried to relate to and express her many struggles (internal and external), both subtly and dramatically.
This was an exciting opportunity for me to perform–with both singing and acting–and I have really worked hard on expressing my innermost feelings and emotions, based on thoughts I have had related to some experiences in the past.
In a myriad of conflicts, during the Vietnam War, the musical Miss Saigon tells the story–over a 3 year period–of a 17-year-old orphan from a remote village in the country.
Kim, the lead character I explore, finds herself in a seedy night club setting, where the Engineer shamelessly promotes her as “new and fresh from the country…
Legs unparted; parts uncharted,” and she gradually adapts to a notoriously sleazy lifestyle of selling amor.
She begins to fall in love with an American GI, named Chris, whose friend has eagerly bartered for “the girl in the dress.”
And, what begins with a cheap barter for Kim, made by Chris’s friend John, Kim is brusquely handed over to Chris and, awkwardly, they slow dance together.
Her offers her some cash, but she refuses, and gracefully takes his hand. They continue onward, into the night, and a connection develops. And, they can’t help but feel that there is a special love that lingers on into the dawn…
After an intimate night with Chris, Kim sleeps soundly, while Chris consorts with God in “Why God Why,” belaying his affection for her and also his immense struggle–not wanting to leave Saigon with such bad memories of his time there–yet also remembering the beauty of the girl he met there and the smell of her “cheap perfume.”He is enamoured by the brilliant flame of their love on “a night like this.”
Waking up to a handful of money, Kim feels groggy and confused about Chris’s dutiful payment.
She knows to expect this as typical, but feels strongly that there is something much more to their love.
Chris expresses to her that many girls he has been with in Vietnam have longed to flee the country to go to America, and Kim has a vivid flash back of when her remote village was devoured in flames and “her parents were bodies whose faces were gone.” She tearfully recounts this painful experience, as Chris is moved and tries hard to console her.
Kim grabs the traditional Vietnamese dress and her sandals by his cot and rushes towards the door to leave, but he catches her by the shoulders and asks her if she can meet him again that night, but with her eyes downcast, she replies that she’ll be at the place she always has to be, but hates…”the club, selling beaucoup amor.”
Chris is upset by her dismay for returning to this lifestyle and doesn’t want her to be there at all and sits her down on the bed.
They exchange their love tenderly, in “Sun and Moon,” where they notice “Day starts to dawn,” as the couple heads up the stairs towards the balcony. “The birds awake,” Kim glances down, as her “hands still shake,” and they “meet in the sky!”
The conversations between John and Chris convey a struggle in the “Telephone Sequence,” as John urges Chris to leave Saigon, and simply can’t understand why Chris is so attached to the “Konghai whore,” he had originally bartered for. John is gravely concerned that his buddy’s life is at stake.
But, Chris urges him that he is in love and that “she’s no whore; she’s really more like the April moon.”
The Engineer, a colorful main character, who is in charge of the performers at the night club, sleazily tries to bribe Chris with a Rolex watch in exchange for a Visa to go to America with and takes Chris’s “six weeks income and is gone in one.”
The scene shifts, as candles on the altar are lit. Champagne is poured into slender glasses, and Kim’s Vietnamese friends arrive.
The friends bless their marriage, singing “Dju Vui Vai” to the newlyweds, praying and drink a toast to the new couple.
Clink! The glasses are raised high into the air, as two unwelcomed guests slip in and appear at their gathering, startling the crowd.
Thuy, Kim’s cousin and former husband, enters with the armed Assistant Commissar and reminds Kim of their unrelenquished love that he wants so desparately to renew.
Thuy menacingly draws his weapon, threatening her and her American husband, who he views this foreign American man as a threat.
Shadows fall. “The Morning of the Dragon” becomes the Fall of Saigon, as soldiers of the Northern Vietnamese Army march in and perform a terrifying frenzied dance.
Soldiers, tiger dancers, and flag bearers pour in, flashing by like a streaks of lightening, “and in the white heat of dawn were gone.”
In “I Still Believe,” two women in two different worlds–of the East and West– convey their struggles to maintain a lasting bond with their Chris, who feels trapped between two relationships (one that is “here and now” and one that has been left behind).
After Kim dutifully finds some work cleaning, she finds that the Engineer has tracked her down, and in “Coo Coo Princess,” the Engineer tries to lure her back into the strip club lifestyle she left.
Her jaw drops, and she is dismayed to find that the Engineer has actually lead Thuy to her.
Thuy takes her hand and reminds her of the vows she made to her father that bound them in their former marriage, trying desperately to convince her that he can rebuild her life and fulfill the vows their fathers made.
Having moved on from a difficult separation from her last husband Chris, Kim refuses.
Thuy’s temper rises into a passive aggressive fury, as he ushers in several armed soldiers from his army to patronize Kim and the Engineer and hold them hostage.
Held at gun point, the soldiers throw them to the floor roughly, belittle them verbally and blindfold them both…
Cowering and shaken, the Engineer and Kim are left there to their own devices and are somehow able to remove their blindfolds.
Kim, with tears in her eyes, tells the Engineer that she has a husband she loves, “real as the sun in the sky,” and says that she “cannot live with a lie.”
Thuy rushes in, forcefully entering the scene again, and yells at the Engineer to get the hell out. Thuy reminds her of their fathers’ vows that he wants to fulfill and conveys his longing to marry his bride, “bright as jade.”
Kim pleads urgently to be left alone…And, with a distant gaze and soft smile, she expresses how she feels–about beautiful light that shines through the darkness from the very depths of her soul:
“Somewhere deep in my soul shines the smallest of lights, and no wind blows it out. It burns steady and strong…Through the darkest of nights.”
Enter: Kim’s and Chris’s son, Tam, who soon becomes the apple of Kim’s eye…and her main motivation for going to America.
After an intense struggle with Thuy–Commissar of the Northern Vietnamese Army, who she was once betrothed to in an arranged marriage at age 13–she ends up killing Thuy, in a desperate scramble to protect her own child…and shaken, flees from the scene.
Kim’s love for her son is powerful, and she becomes very protective of him, as Thuy’s fury is unleashed and he becomes violent with her and her young boy. She defends her child, who is her “only joy,” and draws the gun she got from Chris.
The gun falls hard with a dramatic thud, as her heart and all time seem to stop…Struggling to stand up with weak knees and catch her breath, she covers her mouth in horror as Thuy falls, dying, to the floor.
She rushes over to her son Tam, trying to cover his eyes. As Thuy gasps a last few breaths, Kim is in a vulnerable state of desperation and is feels at odds with what has happened. Her delicate body drapes over him, as tears fall from her face and she realizes what she has done.
Thuy’s body is carried off into the distance, and Kim and Tam run off of the stage in distress, now, in two very different realms.
This scene and the very tragic ending were some of the most difficult parts of the musical for me to experience emotionally.
I truly thought about how devastating it would actually be to have to protect your child’s life and your own and end up taking someone else’s life–also realizing this child had seen and heard everything.
It’s hard to fathom, and when I thought about how much she and Thuy had been through, I was deeply moved by these feelings, allowing the natural buildup of heart-wrenching emotions to swell and for real tears to fall…like a poignant rain from the sky.