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Case Number 10511: Small Claims Court

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The Making Of "Miss Saigon"

A&E // 1989 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // December 21st, 2006

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All Rise...

Tonight Judge Bryan Pope will be Miss Saigon.

The Charge

America had never lost a war. There was something dying for America, much bigger than just the end of an event, or a war that they had officially pulled out of just two years before. This was the end of a vision of America, of a dream of America, of its invincibility, and of the perfect morality that we clothe ourselves in all the time. It came to an end brutally on that day.—Lyricist Richard Maltby Jr.

The Case

By the time their take on Puccini's Madame Butterfly took flight, songwriting wonder duo Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg had already joined Andrew Lloyd Webber and super producer Cameron Macintosh in the British invasion of American musical theater. Their phenomenally successful Les Miserables was still playing to packed houses.

Miss Saigon, about an American GI and a Vietnamese prostitute who fall in love during the final stages of the Vietnam War, opened to mixed critical but extraordinary commercial success. The original London production ran for 4,263 performances. In addition:

• It has been produced by 27 companies in 25 countries and 246 cities, and it has been translated into 12 languages.
• Combined performances for the London production and all subsequent productions have totaled 21,000, reaching over 33 million people.
• Miss Saigon has won 30 major theatre awards during its lifetime. That includes three Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, three Outer Critics Circle Awards and one Theatre World Award.
• Eleven cast recordings have been released. The original London recording sold 150,000 copies within three days of its release, earning itself a gold disc. It eventually went platinum.

The Making of "Miss Saigon" was produced for television in 1989, before anyone knew the commercial and cultural impact the show would have. And that's significant, because instead of a fawning valentine to another of Macintosh's overproduced blockbusters, we get a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at how a musical play is put together.

After Boublil and Schonberg briefly discuss their inspiration for the show, Miss Saigon director Nicholas Hytner gives the cameras complete access to auditions, rehearsals, design concepts and opening night. And, these being theater people, we even get a colorful meltdown or two.

The auditions—held in New York, Hawaii and the Philippines—constitute a large chunk of the program, and they are compelling. Several are almost too painful to watch. One amateur singer struggles as the music director tries to help her reach a high note. She doesn't make the final cut. Pay attention and you'll hear the name Lauren Tom mentioned among the hopefuls. She was seriously considered for Kim, the female lead, but the producers worried about her lack of singing experience.

The program runs only 75 minutes, and it whets one's appetite for more. I like to imagine what a filmmaker with a broader vision and bigger budget might have done with this material. The program barely touches on what goes into backing a show of this magnitude. Then there's development, marketing, critical response, etc.

As it stands, The Making of "Miss Saigon" is short but mostly satisfying viewing. Recommended for theater enthusiasts.

The Making of "Miss Saigon" is presented in its original full-frame format with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. No subtitles or extras.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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