"Miss Saigon" will go on after all, according to a statement issued yesterday by producer Cameron Mackintosh and Actors Equity, who have been feuding over the casting of a white Englishman in the lead role of a Eurasian in the $10 million musical.
"Equity acknowledges the artistic integrity of the creative team of 'Miss Saigon,' " reads the jointly issued statement. "Cameron Mackintosh acknowledges Equity's efforts to improve equal employment opportunities for its ethnic members, and he and his creative team support that goal."
The controversy began last month when Equity's governing council voted to reject Mackintosh's application to permit actor Jonathan Pryce to repeat the role of the Engineer, which he created for the London production that opened last fall, in the New York production. In response, Mackintosh announced he was canceling the production, which offered work to 182 people. After much discussion, Equity's council then reversed its vote, upholding the philosophy but declaring the application "inappropriate." Mackintosh followed that vote with a public declaration that the show would not go on unless Equity made further concessions to cement his artistic control.
The actors' union, and its British counterpart, each can deny a work permit to a foreign actor, which effectively voids his ability to get a visa. Both unions are protective of their memberships, and despite reciprocal agreements hammered out over the years, there have been numerous instances of one country precluding the other's performers from working.
In this case the dispute was further complicated by previous acrimony between Mackintosh and the union over the lack of minority actors in two of his other hit shows, "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables." According to a report in yesterday's New York Times, Mackintosh has agreed to improve opportunities for minority actors in those shows. He will also bring two non-American Asian actors to Broadway for "Miss Saigon," according to that report, but not necessarily the Filipino actress who is playing the lead female role in London. Mackintosh had previously agreed to tone down the Engineer's makeup, which some viewed as a grotesque interpretation of Asian characteristics, using yellow makeup and prosthetic eyebrows.
The dispute provoked intense debate within and without the theatrical community. Those in favor of Equity's original vote noted that Asian actors have an especially small pool of roles in which to be cast, so removing one major part was a distinct blow. Those who opposed the vote cited concerns about artistic freedom, saying that a union should not have the power to dictate casting. Some noted that since the role was that of a man of French and Vietnamese extraction, neither race should lay uncontested claim to it.
Mackintosh had originally scheduled the show's New York opening for March, but yesterday's statement referred only to "next spring." The $25 million advance ticket sales -- slightly inflated in significance thanks to the $100 price of most tickets -- was the highest in Broadway history and no doubt played a factor in the agreement, which was reached after nearly a week of negotiations and conferences.
"An announcement will be made shortly as to when ticket sales will resume," yesterday's statement concluded.