Last Exit to the Land of Hope

A $10 million Broadway musical flaunts spectacle but plays to the heart

On the night that Les Miserables opened in London in October 1985, lyricist Alain Boublil and composer Claude-Michel Schonberg asked their producer, Cameron Mackintosh, if they now had an assured career in the theater. When he said yes, the two French creators told the impresario they had a new project: they wanted to update the Madama Butterfly story. This time their inspiration was not a 1,000-page Victor Hugo novel but a single news photograph of a Vietnamese mother and daughter parting at an airport. The mother had raised her child with one goal: to locate the girl's father, an American soldier...

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