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Posted on May 7th, 2014, by

There were some other modifications to the well-known Shakespearean plot. Laurents’ Juliet did not commit suicide, for example, and the story became more true-to-life and more dramatic at the same time. There was a disturbance because of the plot of certain songs whereas they were too intricate for the representatives of the presented groups. But then the idea to underline this difference appeared. The two protagonists oppose themselves to the groups they come from, and not only their morality and ideals, but also language, movement and senses do differ. It was an accent made on how social system ruins everything that is pure and true within young people. In fact, the plot of the show was really timely, as even throughout the rehearsal period all the local newspapers were full of messages about gang warfare. The United States has always been a multinational country, and New York, the Bid Apple and the melting pot has become a quintessence of racial and ethnic conflicts. It goes without saying that emigrants are always fighting for a place under the sun, and it makes a lot of effort to win that place. Violence has become one of the strongest arguments in the dispute for rights. During rehearsals, the actors playing the Sharks (Perto Rican community) and the actors playing the Jets (the White community) were separated and kept from socializing and were regularly informed of the gang violence danger in the news stories posted on the bulleting board backstage. Due to such a serious approach the performers managed to reach the effect of vivid and true-to-life story and to make the entire audience interested in the conflict and the entire social problem.

Even more provocative historical theme has been covered in the musical Miss Saigon. Like The West Side Story, it was based on classic literature. In this case it was Madame Butterfly, a famous opera by Giacomo Puccini. The musical was created by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, while the lyrics were written by Alain Boublil together with Richard Maltby, Jr. in the musical, the scene is set in 1970s during the Vietnam War. This military conflict lasted for twenty years since 1955 till 1975 ending up with the Fall of Saigon. The United States aimed at preventing communist takeover in Vietnam, and peaceful population as usually suffered the most. Khmer Rouge victory was followed by genocide, the people were demoralized and tens of thousands were killed. Therefore, it is easy to imagine how awful the social conditions were there at that historical moment. Vietnam War has inspired a lot of writers, film-makers, singers and so on, and the creators of Miss Saigon turned out to be among them. Actually, Schönberg was inspired by a magazine photograph depicting a dramatic scene from Vietnam. That was a Vietnamese woman who was sending her child to the United States by a plane moving from the Tan Son Nhut Air Base. In the United States a child was to be met by her father, a former American GI, to provide her with better living, while the woman herself could not fly and was leaving her child at the departure gate likely forever. For Schönberg this action became a symbol of The Ultimate Sacrifice, and this symbol was put in the center of the musical too. A tragedy of love, a tragedy of motherhood and a tragedy of the entire nation have become the canvas of the show.

Well, it is really dramatic, touching and even agonizing to see and imagine the abandoned people screaming in despair while their compatriots are being evacuated from the roof of the Embassy in Saigon. At that time the American nation was already confused by all the actions taking place in Vietnam, and therefore the theme could not be ignored and attracted a lot of viewers to the show which was premiered in 1989 at the Theatre Royal. The action in the musical takes place not long before the Fall of Saigon, and the female protagonist Kim, a 17-year old Vietnamese girl, is found by Chris Scott, one sergeant from the American army. Kim is for the first time working as a bargirl, and Chris decides to save her from falling. They fell in love with each other, but Chris has to be evacuated without her and they depart for three long years. Kim gives birth to a son, and in three years Chris gets to know about him, but he is already married. Struggling for better future for her son, Kim kills herself in hope that Chris and his new wife will take care of a boy. A victim of betrayal, a victim of social order and overall a victim of war time, Kim personifies the tragedy of a lonely weak creature opposed to the whole world and at the same time it denunciates the disgust and destructive force of any military conflict. Miss Saigon is escapist entertainment in style and in the sense that finally it even makes one forget about all the hype and protests that greeted its arrival. But this musical is more than that, too, because the one thing it will not allow an American audience to escape is the lost war that, like its tragic heroine, even now defiantly refuses to be left behind, Erstein (1994, p. 5D) states. The Vietnam War has really stressed the world which has barely recovered from the World War II, and the works like Miss Saigon again and again remind us of how senseless and dangerous it is to fight without end.

In this way, the two musicals focus on different issues of the typical American society. It has always been disposed to racial and ethnic conflicts as well as conflicts based on religious, cultural and any other kind of differences, and it is quire natural as once the Unites States opened its gates as a country of freedom, independency and democracy. Democracy, in theory, provides all the citizens with equal rights, but in practice it is far from that. The failed expectations lead to many challenges. Likewise, noble was the mission of the American military forces in Vietnam as well as in Afghanistan or Iraq much later, but no matter what the end is the price is always too high. And those are the facts we should never forget. That is why the musicals like Miss Saigon and The West Side Story are valuable not only as artworks, but also because of the historical context skillfully reflected in them. They give a vivid, moving and influential response to life without distortions or embellishment, though, of course, all the necessary theatrical staff is used, but it does not interfere with the idea and social context anyway.

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