The heat is on in Saigon. Eye-popping production numbers lure us like johns into the hyper-sexual atmosphere of a sleazy girly bar called Dreamland.The recent revival ratcheted up the raunchiness, making the bar more garishly trashy, the lingerie and bikinis more revealing, and the behavior of off-duty American G.I.s more aggressive.
On this night in Dreamland, one of the bargirls will be crowned Miss Saigon, a nightly occurrence as part of a greedy French-Vietnamese pimp’s scheme to make more money off the backs of his girls. We forget the meaningless competition when we zoom in on a Marine who insists on buying his buddy a girl for the night, “getting him laid as a last souvenir.”
There’s a war on and young men are dying in combat, so we’re supposed to excuse the sorry spectacle of American soldiers abusing Asian girls in a country they’ve come to uplift. Men with weapons have been taking advantage of defenseless women for centuries, but as Americans, didn’t we imagine that our bright-eyed boys were better, that they went off to Vietnam with the highest ideals, and always behaved as angels? “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon” told us we were wrong about that.
Now we are in Dreamland. Against the ugliness of war and against all odds, the sweet-faced U.S. Marine Sgt. Chris Scott falls in love with the virginal Vietnamese bargirl Kim. Of course we want Chris and Kim to live happily ever after. Of course tears well up when they sing a duet expressing heartfelt hopes for a life together free of strife. In America! But we bought tickets to a tragedy so we know Fate will not be kind to the cute couple. The Universe will never allow the Sun to run off with the Moon.
Chris and Kim chance it. They play house on his 48-hour leave while enemy troops encircle the city, the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government collapses like a house of cards, and Americans are packing to leave. Hastily married, the lovers botch their honeymoon plans – and the rest of their lives – by failing to connect on the morning of April 30, 1975. Chris is aboard the last helicopter as it lifts off the Embassy roof at 7:53 a.m. But Kim is left behind banging on the gate. To prove she’s the wife of a GI, Kim shouts, “Look, I have his gun.” How fitting! Three years later, we learn Chris left Kim with something other than his gun. They have a son.
By his own admission, Chris Scott was a draftee who did his time, returned to the States, then chose to re-up and return to Vietnam. Why?
“…’cause here if you can pull a string
A guy like me lives like a king
Just as long as you don’t believe anything.”
He was empowered. He carried a weapon he could pull on any Vietnamese who got in his way.
Disillusioned G.I.s like Chris consider the Vietnam War a joke. But on the Last Night of The World, Chris finds Kim and she becomes the Vietnam he’s fighting for.
“I saw a world I never knew
And through her eyes I suffered too
In spite of all the things that were,
I started to believe in her.”
Broadway’s longest-running musical, Miss Saigon is a tawdry tale of America’s disastrous, decade-long affair with a girl called Vietnam, all the while high on her cheap perfume.
In Chris’s last song, he sings:
“Christ, I’m American
How could I fail to do good?
All I made was a mess
Just like everyone else.”