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Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...? 
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Post Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...?
Dear "Miss Saigon" Fans,

SPOILER WARNING FOR "MISS SAIGON".

I have never seen "Miss Saigon" onstage, but my local theatre is presenting a ton of musicals this Summer, including "Oliver!" (I MUST see that one)...and "Miss Saigon".

I've been listening to certain tracks from the show, and I'm actually fairly impressed, but a few aspects of the show really, really worry me. First of all, even though The Engineer makes sleaze sort of sexy, the fact that he never really gets punished bothers me (Okay, he can't use Kim and her son anymore, but there are plenty of prostitutes out there, and what can I say? He's a pimp.) Then, there's the fact that not one single adult Asian character is painted as an ultimately successful person. I mean, The Engineer personifies any unfair, "sneaky Asian" stereotypes that Caucasians may have made up, while Kim's cousin represents deceit and cruelty. Then there's Kim, who, for all of her pure and honest beliefs in the future, and who, for all of her love for both her son and Chris, is defeated...by her own hand! Heck! Even Linda Low and Mei Li fared better in "Flower Drum Song". What happens to Chris and Ellen? They live happily ever after, of course, while ALL of the main Asian characters are reduced to nothing. I can't believe how unfortunately racist the entire storyline is, because I think that it could've been better. I really didn't want Kim to die, even though I can understand why her love for her son broke her heart. Do those who have actually seen the show really feel a sense of hope at the end of the show? Is "Miss Saigon" more of a "War is Hell!" kind of a show than a hopeful, politically correct show?

I am not certain that I approve of all of the insulting, racially insensitive terms that just had to be thrown into various songs. ICK! I think that this is the sort of show that Baby Boomers cannot watch with later generations. Actually, I am one generation later than that of The Baby Boomers, and some of the language offends ME. I don't mind controversial topics, and even mildly insensitive language, but I don't like the idea that a show is so offensive that it destroys the envelope. Am I overreacting?

I am totally curious about "Miss Saigon", and yet, I don't know if it's the sort of a show that many generations can watch at the same time, without killing each other afterwards because someone insisted that it'd be an okay show for everybody. In other words, if my entire family was okay with "The Full Monty" onstage (I was actually the one who was scared to death to see that show onstage, because I thought that it'd be offensive, but it wasn't), would they like "Miss Saigon"? Would I like "Miss Saigon"? Should I see "Miss Saigon" anyway, because I'm so curious to see what the musical looks like onstage?

Thank you in advance for your replies.
:?:

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Wed Mar 23, 2011 6:03 pm
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
See the show. It is wonderful. The language serves to set the mood and to advance the story. I am at least 1 generation older than you and the language did not offend me in the least when taken in the context of the situation that the characters were put into and the norms of the time depicted.

The show is a tragedy, and like all tragedies it's characters have flaws that serve to bring about the tragic consequences.

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Fri Mar 25, 2011 8:39 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
The Duchess of Mint wrote:
Dear "Miss Saigon" Fans,

SPOILER WARNING FOR "MISS SAIGON".

I have never seen "Miss Saigon" onstage, but my local theatre is presenting a ton of musicals this Summer, including "Oliver!" (I MUST see that one)...and "Miss Saigon".

I've been listening to certain tracks from the show, and I'm actually fairly impressed, but a few aspects of the show really, really worry me. First of all, even though The Engineer makes sleaze sort of sexy, the fact that he never really gets punished bothers me (Okay, he can't use Kim and her son anymore, but there are plenty of prostitutes out there, and what can I say? He's a pimp.) Then, there's the fact that not one single adult Asian character is painted as an ultimately successful person. I mean, The Engineer personifies any unfair, "sneaky Asian" stereotypes that Caucasians may have made up, while Kim's cousin represents deceit and cruelty. Then there's Kim, who, for all of her pure and honest beliefs in the future, and who, for all of her love for both her son and Chris, is defeated...by her own hand! Heck! Even Linda Low and Mei Li fared better in "Flower Drum Song". What happens to Chris and Ellen? They live happily ever after, of course, while ALL of the main Asian characters are reduced to nothing. I can't believe how unfortunately racist the entire storyline is, because I think that it could've been better. I really didn't want Kim to die, even though I can understand why her love for her son broke her heart. Do those who have actually seen the show really feel a sense of hope at the end of the show? Is "Miss Saigon" more of a "War is Hell!" kind of a show than a hopeful, politically correct show?

I am not certain that I approve of all of the insulting, racially insensitive terms that just had to be thrown into various songs. ICK! I think that this is the sort of show that Baby Boomers cannot watch with later generations. Actually, I am one generation later than that of The Baby Boomers, and some of the language offends ME. I don't mind controversial topics, and even mildly insensitive language, but I don't like the idea that a show is so offensive that it destroys the envelope. Am I overreacting?

I am totally curious about "Miss Saigon", and yet, I don't know if it's the sort of a show that many generations can watch at the same time, without killing each other afterwards because someone insisted that it'd be an okay show for everybody. In other words, if my entire family was okay with "The Full Monty" onstage (I was actually the one who was scared to death to see that show onstage, because I thought that it'd be offensive, but it wasn't), would they like "Miss Saigon"? Would I like "Miss Saigon"? Should I see "Miss Saigon" anyway, because I'm so curious to see what the musical looks like onstage?

Thank you in advance for your replies.
:?:


You are overreacting! If you take offense from characters in a play, then why would you watch a show? You, my friend, have misunderstood. Miss Saigon is in no way racist, nor should the language offend you.

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Fri Apr 15, 2011 6:49 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
The Duchess of Mint wrote:
What happens to Chris and Ellen? They live happily ever after, of course, while ALL of the main Asian characters are reduced to nothing.


Well, Chris and Ellen certainly live - how happy they are is anyone's guess considering the end of the musical. And the Engineer might end up being successful if he gets to America - he certainly has the stubborness and the ingenuity to do so.

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Thu Apr 21, 2011 11:09 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
High-baritonne wrote:

You are overreacting! If you take offense from characters in a play, then why would you watch a show? You, my friend, have misunderstood. Miss Saigon is in no way racist, nor should the language offend you.


When the musical first came out, there were a lot of controversies over some of the language in the musical, especially in The American Dream. Duchess isn't the only one who found the musical offensive, that's for sure.


Thu Apr 21, 2011 11:27 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
This show is a must see. It is an incredible piece of theater. The language can be seen as offensive, however, I see the words used as a captured moment in time.

They are not written to offend but to educate.


Mon Apr 25, 2011 11:43 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
You raise some valid points, Duchess, and of course everyone is entitled to his/her opinion about the show, but I'm a fan for the following reasons:

1) The music is AWESOME.

2) Miss Saigon is loosely based upon an earlier work called Madame Butterfly and so some of the plot points (e.g. the fate of the Asian characters) was already set in stone in a different context.

3) Sometimes offensive material can actually guide and instruct us through the very fact that we find it offensive. We may not enjoy the act of being offended, but the act of taking offence helps us to come to terms with our own (sometimes previously subconscious) views about certain issues and further clarify/refine our responses.

4) The Engineer isn't punished by any external agency for his dodgy behaviour, but I think the show makes it fairly clear that he unwittingly ends up punishing himself by creating fantasies that real life can't possibly live up to (the American Dream). We mightn't like him a whole lot when we see him pimping women, but maybe we have a somewhat unwilling admiration for him as a street-smart do-whatever-it-takes survivor because we know we wouldn't have his kind of chutzpah if we ever wound up in similar circumstances.

On a broader scale, maybe the character of the Engineer and songs like Bui Doi help us to understand how terribly difficult life was for Eurasians post-Vietnam War - as difficult as it always is for the latest wave of immigrants/outsiders fleeing war in their devastated homelands. Perhaps it suggests that if we have the power to address this situation, then we should.

Then again, maybe I'm reading too much into it. :roll:

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Mon Oct 31, 2011 1:07 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
This musical is not racist. In fact, it highlights and stresses the horrible situations that some Asian women find themselves in. I saw the show for the first time last week. I have been travelling in Southeast Asia from Febuary till April of this year and what actually distressed me is how up to date Miss Saigon STILL is. When in Cambodia I talked to girls that were in the same position as Kim and Gigi, selling themselves to try to get away. They try to find Western men who will look after them, hoping in the end that he will take her with him (which obviously, never happens). I think this musical does an excellent job in telling the viewer the stories of those women who have no other means of living. It highlights the fact that for a lot of girls this is still the current situation in Asia. Since Miss Saigon is about this subject, there is no point to be more polite about it, since it is a horrible scene to begin with.

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Fri Jun 29, 2012 10:05 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
I gotta admit, I don't really like the musical. Not based on the London Cast Recording, at least.


Fri Jun 29, 2012 1:41 pm
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
The title character is Asian and is by far the most sympathetically-portrayed character in the show. The others all have their flaws regardless of race: the Engineer is exploitative, Thuy is violent, Chris is weak, Ellen is selfish, etc. But despite that, we can also relate to all of them. That's one of the reasons that it's such a good show - the characters are (for the most part) rounded and believable.

The other reason is that the music is brilliant.

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Sat Jun 30, 2012 2:02 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
I see everyone's point on this musical, but I have to say that this piece is stunningly racist and sexist. It dresses like an enlightened piece about the horrors of war and how it affects families and whatnot, but at the base it's still got the condescension of the original Puccini opera.

Miss Saigon retains Madama Butterfly's imperialist and patriarchal sentiments, with a good dash of American guilt about the Vietnam war to make the audience feel good about being socially conscious.

The Vietnamese are portrayed as victims of the corrupt Vietnamese regime, and the Americans are portrayed as the rescuers who are justified in their presence, and have the ability to save civilians via their superior lifestyle back in the USA. The American guilt that comes after seems to stem from the fact that they couldn't save enough people, and not that they shouldn't have been in Vietnam in the first place. American fantasies of saving the oppressed foreigners with their backwards government are best encapsulated by this line:

Quote:
They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do


The wording of this phrase is just incredible in its wrongheadedness. 'The good we failed to do?' How about 'The women we knocked up' or 'The affairs we had no business meddling in?'

Bui Doi makes it sound like the Americans were on some kind of peacekeeping mission gone awry. Really.

As for the sexism in this piece, one need only look at the full spectrum of female characters. You've got whores, wives, and mothers, a trifecta that must have been revolutionary in Shakespearean times but is getting slightly dated now. Everyone's life revolves around men, usually white men. At least in the original opera, Cio-Cio-San has a female friend, Suzuki, who acts on her behalf alone.

In Miss Saigon, Kim has no female friends to speak of, and the only representation of her countrymen are her fellow prostitutes, an abusive suitor who is only there to make Chris look better, and the Engineer. None of these characters experience any real growth throughout the piece.

Chris takes a wife, presumably in a 'real' wedding, while he's in America. When Ellen finds out he actually married and had a kid with a teenaged prostitute while he was doing God knows what in Vietnam, she reacts in the most unbelievable ways possible. Absolutely lacking in compassion for Kim, she decides to turn a delicate situation into a competition for who gets Chris's heart. You know, Chris, the guy who lied to her, at least by omission, about already being married. 'Her or Me' is a song that lacks in any empathy for Kim's plight, and also showcases Ellen's inexplicable emotional dependency on Chris.

David Hwang says a lot about what I dislike about this kind of story better than I ever could. Take a look at this clip.



Sat Jun 30, 2012 7:18 am
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Post Re: Am I really not giving this musical a fair chance, or...
Canadian Drama Geek wrote:
Quote:
They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do


The wording of this phrase is just incredible in its wrongheadedness. 'The good we failed to do?' How about 'The women we knocked up' or 'The affairs we had no business meddling in?'


Remember that those words are in sung by the character of an American G.I. who had been to Vietnam - i don't find it surprising that the character believed (rightly or wrongly) that they were in Vietnam to do good. And the phrase does very explicitly admit that if they were there to do good, they certainly didn't do any good in practice.

Also consider Chris's line: "All I made was a mess in a place full of mystery that I never once understood". That seems to be clearly directed at America's involvement in Vietnam and actually makes much the same point that you are making.

Sorry to disagree, but I think to interpret Miss Saigon as justifying imperialism is a total misunderstanding of the show.

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Sat Jun 30, 2012 9:46 am
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