It’s difficult to get the real feel of war onto a stage, the feeling of desperation, hopelessness, and fear, especially in a musical. But the set for Miss Saigon magically transported everyone to Saigon and into the hearts of the characters. From prison camps to helicopters, the set helps the telling of the story immensely.
Miss Saigon is a musical that takes place in 1970’s Saigon during the Vietnam War, it follows closely the story of the Opera Madame Butterfly, except the marriage between an American lieutenant and Japanese girl is replaced by a romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl. This play differs from the other ones in our Museum because it takes place far away in Saigon, the “other” side of the war, the “bad” side.
The first thing the audience hears as the play begins is a helicopter overhead. The helicopter is the prized set piece of Miss Saigon. It can be an actual life-sized, working piece of machinery. Highlights of the show include the evacuation of the last Americans in Saigon from the Embassy roof by helicopter while a crowd of abandoned Vietnamese screams in despair, the victory parade of the new communist régime and the frenzied night club scene at the time of defeat. The helicopter is thought by some as a symbol of freedom. Others think of it as a symbol of fear. Two very different things, but it makes sense. When one hears a helicopter, depending on what side they’re on, it can mean different things. But the audience always knows that when they hear that sound, something intense is about to happen!
Though there are many other incredible set pieces, the Helicopter is obviously the biggest crowd pleaser for this crowd favorite musical. It even holds the record for most tickets sold in one day for the 2013 return on the West End (Gioia). Talk about a musical that speaks to the masses! Though spectacle is not the most important thing, indeed, it is last on the list, it definitely adds so much to this already beautifully tragic story.
Boublil, Alain, Schonberg, Claude-Michel. Miss Saigon. 1989.
Gioia, Michael. “West End Return of Miss Saigon Sets Record for Largest Single-Day Tix Sales
Playbill.com.” West End Return of Miss Saigon Sets Record for Largest Single-Day Tix Sales – Playbill.com. Playbill.com, 09 Sept. 2013. Web
“SLG DESIGNS.” MISS SAIGON SCENIC BREAKDOWN. Web.