"Miss Saigon is back on Broadway, and the tragic tale of a prostitute and G.I. falling for each other at the end of the Vietnam War feels in some ways of the moment, and in others offensively outdated.
Is it impossible to find the entertainment in Miss Saigon, the epic musical that follows the tragedy of a virginal Vietnamese woman who falls for an American G.I. just as Saigon is falling in 1975, and the sacrifice she makes to ensure their son has the life she desires for him?
As evidenced by the laughter and weepy sniffles around me a few nights ago: no. Many in the audience clapped loudly, stood, and cheered this revival (transferred from London and produced by Cameron Mackintosh).
But watching this grandly designed and mounted Broadway show—first produced in London in 1989—especially in light of the fraught and charged debate around immigration and refugees, with its full retinue of racial stereotypes unchanged, is a bizarre confluence of opposites; like sunbathing on a bright sunny beach which is freezing cold, or drinking a banana milkshake and it tasting of garden weeds.
This uncomfortable experience isn’t because of the racial controversies that dogged it in its infancy, as elegantly sketched in a recent New York Times article.
There are no longer white actors playing Asian roles (however brilliantly in the case of Jonathan Pryce), and playing them with “yellowface” at that.
Jon Jon Briones, who plays the villainous pimp, the Engineer in this production, is Filipino; and Eva Noblezada, who plays tragic prostitute heroine Kim, has a Filipino father and Mexican-American mother. This new version has changed the wedding lyrics, featured in a scene between Kim and G.I. Chris (Alistair Brammer), to real Vietnamese words.
But this is a bright, Broadway spectacular where the grit and hard facts of history are impossible to ignore, or square with Miss Saigon’s song-and-dance, flashy sets and flashing lights.
Just how can you make the sexual, romantic, emotional and financial exploitation and abuse of a vulnerable Vietnamese woman into a barnstorming theatrical night out? This reporter could not see it; others around him, very visibly and audibly, could."
Sexism, Race and the Mess of Miss Saigon on Broadway - The Daily Beast