Cameron Mackintosh hopes to set the enduring tuner on the 'Les Miz' path to Rialto and film renown
“Miss Saigon” is back.
With a West End revival bowing in May and a smaller-scale, stand-alone production now running at the D.C. area’s Signature Theater, the 1989 mega musical, often mentioned in the same breath as “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” is being polished up for its upcoming 25th anniversary. And it’s happening at a time when the film biz, spurred by the success of last year’s rendition of “Les Miserables,” is starting to look at the back catalog of hit Brit tuners for its next prestige movie-musical.
So is the bigscreen perhaps the next stop for “Saigon”?
Not quite, even if Cameron Mackintosh, the legit producer behind both “Saigon” and “Les Miz” (as well as “Phantom” and “Cats”), has made no secret of the fact that “Miss Saigon” is the next title he’d love to see headed to Hollywood. But the bustle of activity around “Saigon” nonetheless reps a resurgence for a globally recognized property that, unlike the omnipresent “Phantom” and “Les Miz,” seems as if it went dormant for a while.
It didn’t, really. A touring version of the musical — a Vietnam War-era take on “Madame Butterfly” from “Les Miz” songwriters Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil — has been evolving over the past several years at various international locations, gaining a new song (“Maybe,” replacing “Now That I’ve Seen Her”) in the process. But even Nick Allott, managing director of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd., acknowledges that it’s easy to get the impression “Miss Saigon” went away, in part because it hasn’t recently played in any of the world’s major theater capitals. “It does feel like ‘Saigon’ is one of the big iconic musicals that hasn’t been done lately,” he says.
With the London production gearing up, Mackintosh has scaled back a bit on licensing the show to other producers and presenters, but the company remains open to allowing some productions that won’t present a conflict with the West End version. Case in point: the Signature Theater’s staging, rescaled and reimagined for a 276-seat theater — but still encompassing 18 actors and a 15-piece orchestra.
Signature a.d. Eric Schaeffer, who staged the Mackintosh tuner “The Witches of Eastwick” in 2000, previously directed a well-received, darker version of “Les Miz” in 2008 that preceded the reconceived touring production of “Les Miz.” A new staging of that “Les Miz” is now wending its way to the Rialto.
According to Allott, “Saigon” hasn’t been as hot a licensing property as, say, “Les Miz,” in part because of the perception that the show demands a big-budget spectacle along the lines of the original production, famous for the helicopter that descended onstage. But with the Signature version proving rotor blades aren’t required, there’s a chance licensing demand may rise.
“The show became known as the helicopter musical, but … you can approach it so differently,” Schaeffer says. “Hopefully this production is just a way of getting the monster out there in the world in a new form.”
In Gotham, no one would be surprised if “Saigon” found a Broadway helipad should the West End revival prove successful. But no one’s counting on a transfer yet, says Allott, and a film version may be even further off. “The ‘Les Miz’ film,” he notes, “was bubbling for 25 years before it got made.”