NEW YORK, OCT. 1 -- Open auditions to find minority actors for the expensively produced, heavily promoted and controversially cast Broadway musical "Miss Saigon" today produced:

Two hundred or so hopefuls, in a line that began at the Royale Theatre stage door, wound down a concrete alleyway and out onto 45th Street;

A bunch of reporters seeking opinions on ethnicity and theater from people who mostly just aspired to land jobs; and

No pickets.

It seemed what labor arbitrators would call a cooling-off period.

Not that people didn't have opinions. The auditioners warming up their voices in the alley or idling in the theater's dingy basement, waiting to be called onstage in groups to belt 16 bars of a song, all seemed to know about the summer's skirmish between producer Cameron Mackintosh and Actors Equity.

The union had refused to permit British actor Jonathan Pryce, who originated the leading role of a Eurasian brothel owner, to star in the Broadway production, saying it "could not appear to condone the casting of a Caucasian in the role of a Eurasian." Mackintosh then announced cancellation of the $10 million show, which had a record advance ticket sale of $25 million and would have provided work for more than 180 people, including 34 minority-group actors.

After considerable wrangling about creative freedom and racism and censorship, waged on op-ed pages and talk shows and in petitions from hundreds of its own members, Equity reversed itself last month and permitted Pryce to star. The agreement, which acknowledged both the producers' "artistic integrity" and Equity's "efforts to improve equal employment opportunities," was promptly denounced by demonstrating actors carrying signs such as "The Great White Only Way."

All those issues remained alive during today's open call. Scott Kitajima, 22, who rode a bus down from Boston, where he's a theater student, recalled several auditions in which "a stage manager or a director would say, 'We really love your voice and the way you perform, but we can't use you because you're Asian.' "

The most recent example, Kitajima said, came at a California production of "The Music Man," set in bygone days in a small Iowa town. "I understood it when they said it, but it's really difficult. Should they cast someone who's white and not as good?" Kitajima still wonders. He thinks today's audiences would have accepted that bit of what's known as nontraditional casting.

Still, he was glad the union had backed off so that the show could go on. "It was being blown out of proportion," he said.

Among the Asian actors here today (joined by African American, Hispanic and American Indian men, auditioning to play American GIs, and by a few Caucasians who weren't really supposed to be here but were seizing an opportunity to appear before a casting director), such ambivalence was common. Some were grateful that Equity had raised the issue, but grateful too to try out for a play offering so many Asian roles.

"It's a multiracial society we have, and that should be portrayed on the stage and screen," argued Ariel Estrada, 21, a Filipino college student from Oregon who's in New York for an internship at the Public Theatre. The casting of Pryce "does bother me," he said. "I'm sure there are Asian actors who could fill that role." At home in Portland, "a really white-bread community," Estrada goes to auditions partly "just to show that there are ethnic actors; it's sort of a political thing for me."

On the other hand, "it's high time {'Miss Saigon'} came over here," he said. "It brings work, especially for Asians."

Joan Hsiao, a show biz novice who is unemployed and figured what the heck, argued that nontraditional casting has historically worked against minorities. "The tradition has been to cast white actors in Asian roles, like Charlie Chan or Fu Manchu. It's rare to see a major Asian part played by an Asian." When Asian women have been cast, Hsiao said, "what are they? Prostitutes and barmaids."

She thought Mackintosh should have made more effort to find an Asian star, which left her with mixed feelings about being here at all. "On the one hand, I want to protest it, say, 'This is not something I want to be part of.' On the other hand, how often are there open auditions for Asian actors? You have to take advantage of the opportunity."

Others, such as Nerissa Bilan, 23, who hopped the subway from Queens carrying the sheet music for West Side Story's "Somewhere," believed in a director's and producer's right to cast any actor they chose. "Ethnically, I don't fit the part if they're looking for an American girl-next-door," Bilan shrugged. "I have no problem with that. They're looking for a specific character; I can't go have plastic surgery."

Politics aside, both veterans and theatrical tenderfeet said they were excited to have a chance at a part in what seems likely to be a blockbuster show.

The producers had advertised today's open call not only in trade papers such as Backstage, but also in the New York Daily News, the New York Times and 15 Asian newspapers. "We've used every means possible to try to get people there," said spokesman Marc Thibodeau.

Open calls have been held in several cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu. But no final casting decisions have been made beyond Jonathan Pryce, Thibodeau said. The show is expected to be fully cast by the end of next week.

"This is an opportunity, one in a million," said Ricci Adan, an Equity member who hitched a ride south from Albany. She too had felt "humiliated" when rejected for ethnic incompatibility in the past. But the musical's advent made her "very glad for the Asians; they'll see that we do exist."