NEW YORK, AUG. 21 -- The producer of the London musical "Miss Saigon" stunned Actors Equity today, saying that unless the union found a way to dispel the "profoundly unpleasant atmosphere" surrounding the production he would refuse to bring it to Broadway.

The announcement revived a controversy that many in the theater community assumed had ended last week, when Equity reversed itself and decided to permit the Caucasian actor Jonathan Pryce to re-create his portrayal of a Eurasian pimp in the hit play next year.

But in a three-page statement sent today to Equity's governing council, the producer, Cameron Mackintosh, said the union's highly publicized reversal did not go far enough in embracing the concept of artistic liberty.

"It is quite clear that their decision was made solely on the technical basis of Mr. Pryce's acknowledged star status," the statement said in part. "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."

The production was to have begun in March 1991, and Mackintosh said that if Equity gave him the proper assurances he would still like to bring the play to Broadway later in the year. It is not clear what he wants, other than an apology, but that will be hard to get from the divided union leadership.

Equity officials said they would have no comment until Wednesday, but the action will undoubtedly bring a new round of recriminations over the original decision to prevent Pryce from appearing in the planned Broadway production, to which a record $25 million worth of advance tickets has already been sold.

The original decision was taken by Equity because, according to its leadership, the union "could not appear to condone the casting of a Caucasian in the role of a Eurasian." That decision ignited a torrent of criticism. Last week, after six hours of closed-door wrangling and a press conference where Equity leaders stressed how important it is to address the issues of minority hiring in the theater, the council gave in.

Most people thought that was the end of it, and that Mackintosh would bring the show to Broadway. Pryce, who has won both critical and public acclaim for his performance, plays the role of the Engineer, a seedy Saigon brothel owner luxuriating in the decay and corruption of Vietnam at the end of the American war.

But Mackintosh was clearly upset that the union decided to permit Pryce to perform in the United States solely because it had granted him official star status. Although Equity has the power to veto foreign performers, it routinely waives the rule for stars.

"Our position continues to be that the role of the Engineer must be available to actors of any racial background with the ultimate casting criterion being talent," Mackintosh's statement said. "If 'Miss Saigon' is to be performed successfully, I would be absolutely delighted to find and cast an Asian actor for the role of the Engineer, but I would be equally delighted to find and cast a Black, Hispanic, Caucasian, or Native American ... ."

"Well, good for him," said Carey Perloff, artistic director of Manhattan's Classic Stage Company. "I do think it should be made clear that this is not -- nor should it be -- just a case of a star being allowed to perform. Artistic freedom is everything and that is why the members demanded a new vote.

"And Equity should set its sights a little higher," she continued. "There is not a woman who directs on Broadway today, and nobody screams about that. This is an enormously sexist profession. That is why so many good women and good minorities leave the theater by the time they are 35. But this is not the way to resolve those problems."

Others in the theater community say that decades of discrimination have had the effect of preventing many fine actors from succeeding on the stage. They fault Mackintosh for not at least trying to fill the role with an Asian.

"Nobody is trying to curtail his freedom, and this has never been a criticism of Mr. Pryce for whom we have the greatest respect," said Tisa Chang, artistic director of the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre. "We demand only that {Mackintosh} give us a chance, that he get to know what Asian talent is available. But he is too arrogant and childish even to have bothered."