The Fallout Over 'Miss Saigon' : Reconciling the Difficulty of Artistic and Moral Choices

An overview can be a very frustrating perspective for an artistic director.

The first thing I thought upon seeing last Thursday's Calendar section was, "Oh dear! Politics and artistic choices again--now what do we do?" There was Jonathan Pryce, the justifiably famed British star of "Miss Saigon," rejected by

Actors' Equity for a starring Eurasian role they felt must be filled by an Asian American in the Broadway production of the musical. And then, of course, turning over the page, my eye was caught by a small paragraph in Morning Report that quietly announced that Akira Kurosawa had chosen Richard Gere to star in his next film as a Japanese American.

So how do we reconcile these two issues? Can Kurosawa, a bona- fide genius of considerable tenure, be correct in casting a Caucasian actor in his next film to play a Japanese American, if Cameron Mackintosh is incorrect doing essentially the same thing for his musical? Will there be an outcry from the corresponding film representatives against perhaps one of the most transcendental talents working today? Or has Kurosawa proved his record of employing Asians, and, as a result, deserves the opportunity to simply cast as he chooses?

I believe the theater today has a moral obligation to take the lead in creating more traditional and non-traditional jobs for all minority artists, and yet somehow we must do so without limiting the genuinely creative and artistic choice.

Clearly, if there were a major Eurasian star able to play the leading role in "Miss Saigon," the producers would be foolhardy not to employ him. But I cannot deny the fact that Jonathan Pryce, whom I have seen play both Hamlet and Trigorin dazzlingly, will pull an audience in to see this musical.

And I cannot deny that the 30-plus Asian American musical performers in the same production will gain enormously both from the employment and the eventual opportunities provided by having such a musical playing before an eager and appreciative audience, to say nothing of subsequent productions.

So who wins and who loses? And if we begin to administer such casting choices strictly from a singular, political or social perspective, how many exceptional actors and actresses, of all colors, may never appear in a variety of interesting roles because of the possibility of an incorrect posture suggested by non- non-traditional casting, if that isn't too obscure!

One would hope that we are long past the time that cultural identity alone is the singular issue which can determine one's success or failure as an artist. It occurs to me that when the choice was left to Kurosawa, he decided to employ Gere and many Asians as well. He may have something there.

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