Producer Cameron Mackintosh might bring "Miss Saigon" to New York next spring--but only if Actors' Equity meets his demands.
The producer of the controversial $10-million hit London musical insisted in a statement released Tuesday that he "be assured that Equity will act responsibly so that we do not become victims of an inflexible casting process."
His casting of the London star Jonathan Pryce as a Eurasian in the production set off a wave of protest among Asian American activists, prompting Actors' Equity on Aug. 7 to deny Pryce a permit to perform on Broadway. Despite a $25-million advance ticket sale, Mackintosh canceled the lavish production the next day, saying he would reconsider bringing the musical to New York only "if rational minds prevail within the membership of Equity."
Last Thursday, after having been petitioned by several hundred members protesting Equity's original decision, the union's council reversed its ruling on Pryce. The union, in a statement, acknowledged that it had "applied an honest and moral principle in an inappropriate manner."
If Mackintosh decides to bring the show to Broadway, he "would still like Jonathan Pryce to do the show in New York," said a spokesman for the producer in New York on Tuesday, "and Jonathan still would like to do the show."
But Mackintosh's response Tuesday still left open the question of whether he would cancel his cancellation. A spokesman for the producer said that his decision would depend on how Equity reacts to "whatever conditions he has regarding artistic freedom" by early September.
Equity officials said they would not issue a statement on Tuesday, but would consider the matter and respond sometime today.
"I cannot in good conscience reschedule the production in the absence of a positive working environment and an understanding, agreed to without reservation by all, that artistic freedom of choice cannot be compromised," said Mackintosh's statement.
Mackintosh wrote that Equity's most recent ruling was made "solely on the technical basis of Mr. Pryce's acknowledged star status. As I have repeatedly stated, it is also essential that the profoundly unpleasant atmosphere currently surrounding the production be dispelled. This can only be achieved with Equity's leadership."
Mackintosh wrote a separate letter to Equity outlining "the main areas of casting which we believe require our mutual collaboration." Neither Mackintosh's spokesman nor Equity would make a copy of the letter available at press time.
Apparently referring to future companies of "Miss Saigon," Mackintosh's statement noted that he "would be absolutely delighted to find and cast an Asian actor for the role of the Engineer (Pryce's role), but I would be equally delighted to find and cast a Black, Hispanic, Caucasian, or Native American actor with the talent, experience, and charisma necessary for the role."
Mackintosh also noted that "There are many casting complexities to be resolved . . . beyond the role of the Engineer. There are 27 jobs (in the New York production) intended for Asian actors. However, at present it is our understanding that of Equity's membership of 40,000 actors, only approximately 400 are of Asian background. Clearly, we will need to work together with Equity and the Asian community to increase this talent pool. We have announced our commitment to assist in the vocal training of those Asian actors who may be considered for these jobs."
In reversing its initial barring of Pryce on Thursday, the union said that Pryce qualified as a star according to the criteria set by its agreement with the League of American Theatres and Producers. "It has never been Equity's intention for this issue to reflect in any way on Mr. Pryce, whose excellence and abilities the union has consistently acknowledged," a union statement said.
"Actors' Equity welcomes Jonathan Pryce and wishes Cameron Mackintosh's production of 'Miss Saigon' a long and prosperous run," the statement added.
However, the statement also noted that Mackintosh had acknowledged "that Mr. Pryce removed the prosthetics on his eyes (designed to make him look more Asian) 'immediately upon his becoming aware that their intended use offended members of the American-Asian community.' "
The union asserted that "there has now been an admission that there was no intent or desire to audition or employ an Asian to portray the role of the Engineer in the London production. The anger of the Asian community is understandable."
As of Saturday, Pryce was not satisfied with Equity's response. He told The Times before his last appearance in the role in London that he felt as if the union were telling him, "We'll let you in, but you're still a racist--a star racist." Equity's statement last Thursday "failed to address" the racial issue at the heart of the controversy, Pryce said.
However, Mackintosh used a more conciliatory tone in addressing the playwright and star of "M. Butterfly," who were instrumental in raising the issue of Pryce's being cast as a Eurasian. "I would like to thank (actor) B.D. Wong and (playwright) David Henry Hwang for making us aware of all the past and present discrimination and injustice that the Asian acting community, and all actors of color, have suffered and continue to suffer. . . . If i was initially skeptical of their motives, I apologize."
Refunds are still being issued to ticket buyers who request them, said the Mackintosh spokesman, but by last Friday, only 200 refund requests had been received. "Most people are still waiting to see how it will turn out," he noted.