'Miss Saigon' tryouts a hit

October 02, 1990

NEW YORK -- By 9:15 in the morning, there were 67 people in line outside the Royale Theater on West 45th Street, around the corner from Shubert Alley and in the heart of that part of midtown Manhattan known as the theater district or, more specifically, Broadway. When the doors opened a little after 10, there were more than 140, all there with one goal, one dream: to get a job in a Broadway show.

But this was not just any Broadway show. The show was "Miss Saigon," the hit London musical that has been the subject of much racial controversy in the last two months, and the audition was specifically for ethnic minority actors -- Asian actors, black actors, Hispanic actors, American Indian actors.

In August, Equity barred the British actor Jonathan Pryce from playing the leading role of the Engineer, a Eurasian pimp, in the story of an American G.I. and his Vietnamese lover in the last days of the Vietnam War.

The union said that it was concerned about the need to increase employment opportunities for ethnic minorities and that it could not condone the casting of a Caucasian in the role of a Eurasian.

The next day, Mackintosh canceled the $10 million show, which had an advance ticket sale of more than $25 million. After receiving a petition from many of its members urging it to reconsider, the union reversed its decision, saying it had "applied an honest and moral principle in an inappropriate manner."

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