After years of involvement in the controversial Vietnam War, the U.S. made great (however, failed) efforts to withdraw from Vietnam without losing the war. With the establishment of a peace agreement with North Vietnam in Paris on January 27, 1973, American soldiers finally began to leave Vietnam for good. Between 1964 and 1975 more than three million Americans had served in the war, more than 58,000 were dead, some 1,000 were missing in action and approximately 150,000 were seriously wounded.
As the U.S. military was rapidly departing the region, the North Vietnamese Army was plotting various strategic game plans to take the south, disregarding their commitment to cease hostilities, as spelled out in the Paris Agreement. By April 25, 1975 the North Vietnamese Army captured several major cities in the South, causing the South Vietnamese Army to lose more than a third of its men and nearly half its weapons. When the NVA began closing in on Saigon, President Ford was forced to order an immediate evacuation of American civilians and South Vietnamese refugees in Operation Frequent Wind.
The operation was put into effect by secret code. Remaining citizens, refugees and officials were to stand by until the code was released. "White Christmas" was the code, which was broadcast on the morning of April 29th. Refugees and Americans fled to designated landing zones. U.S. Marine and Air Force helicopters, flying from offshore carriers, performed a massive airlift. In 18 hours, more than 1,000 Americans and nearly 7,000 South Vietnamese refugees were flown out of Saigon. Only hours later, South Vietnamese looters ransacked the American embassy as Soviet-supplied tanks, operated by North Vietnamese, rolled south. On the morning of April 30th, Communist forces captured the presidential palace in Saigon, which ended the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War remains a painful memory for many of the people who lived through it. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil came under a lot of fire when they first proposed a musical based on this recent event. The musical's inspiration was reportedly a photograph, inadvertently found by Schönberg in a magazine of a Vietnamese mother leaving her child at a departure gate at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to board a plane headed for the United States where her father, an ex-GI, would be in a position to provide a much better life for the child. Schönberg considered this mother's actions for her child to be "The Ultimate Sacrifice," an idea central to the plot of Miss Saigon.
Taking inspiration from the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly, Schönberg and Boublil, composers of Les Miserables, collaborated with Richard Maltby, Jr. to create MISS SAIGON. It premiered in 1989 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, where it ran for ten years. Its Broadway premiere happened at the Broadway Theatre in 1991, earning 11 Tony nominations including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. The musical closed on January 28, 2001 after 4,092 performances. Miss Saigon holds the record for 10th longest-running Broadway musical in musical theatre history.