NEW YORK, AUG. 7 -- Actors' Equity today barred a white actor from repeating his performance as a Eurasian brothel owner in the Broadway production of the hit London musical "Miss Saigon."
The decision by the union's council could jeopardize the New York production of the show, scheduled to open next March. Last week, Cameron Mackintosh, the musical's producer, said he would withdraw the musical if English star Jonathan Pryce were not allowed to perform in New York.
"The casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community," the union said in a statement read by Alan Eisenberg, its executive secretary.
"The casting choice is especially disturbing when the casting of an Asian actor in this role would be an important and significant opportunity to break the usual pattern of casting Asians in minor roles," Eisenberg said.
Mackintosh was vacationing in France, according to his spokesman Marc Thibodeau, and could not be reached for comment.
Earlier he warned that "unless Equity changes its position ... I will have no choice but to withdraw the production. This is because any interruption in our current production schedule would leave us with insufficient time to prepare this huge and complicated show for a March 1991 opening."
Eisenberg said the union's decision was made "in full awareness that many jobs may be lost to actors of Asian background if the production is canceled.
"The issue of lost money was really not a factor in discussions," he added.
Eisenberg indicated that Mackintosh could submit the matter to arbitration, which would involve Equity and the League of American Theaters and Producers.
The Actors' Equity Association has jurisdiction over all performers appearing on Broadway and must give its approval to actors from foreign countries who appear there.
Playing to sellout audiences in London since last September, "Miss Saigon," set during the final days of the Vietnam War, is the most eagerly awaited musical of the coming New York theater season. The show already has a $24 million advance, the largest in Broadway history, and a top ticket price of $100, the highest for a Broadway musical. The $10 million cost of bringing the production to New York is also a Broadway record.
The controversy over the casting of Pryce in the New York production arose after a complaint was filed with Actors' Equity by "M. Butterfly" playwright David Henry Hwang and actor B.D. Wong, star of that play.
In London, Pryce won the Olivier Award as best actor in a musical for his performance in "Miss Saigon." He has starred on Broadway before, winning praise for his performances in Trevor Griffiths's "Comedians" in 1976 and in Dario Fo's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" in 1984.
"We did not deal with the issue of whether this man is a star or not," Eisenberg said.
He said the controversy "has prompted a long-overdue debate over the issues of nontraditional casting and the lack of job opportunities for ethnic minority actors, in this instance those in the Asian community."
About 300 to 400 of Equity's 40,000 members are Asian, he said.
"When Equity's membership believes that they are in some way being humiliated or ignored, the union is bound to investigate the claim and respond," he added.