An Australian production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical In the Heights, which musicalizes a slice of Washington Heights’ tight-knit Latinx community, has been canceled after controversy erupted over the show’s inauthentic casting of Latinx characters onstage.
Matt Ward Entertainment, the Australian producing entity behind the production, came under fire last week when a series of character posters were released online revealing that a cast of predominantly white actors had been hired for the production.
News of the casting was picked up by OnStage Blog, which condemned the show’s presenters for “whitewashing” the diverse community represented in the musical, and for what seemed like a brazen advertising campaign promoting the decision to cast white actors in culturally inappropriate roles.
Some protesters questioned the creative team’s decision to move forward with the musical once it became apparent that they were unable to authentically cast the production.
A September 20 statement posted on the show's official Facebook page attempted to clarify the casting process and correct what characterized as “misleading” claims in the onstageblog report. It read, in part:
“In casting In the Heights, we actively encouraged actors of all ethnicities to apply and were committed to ensuring our casting reflected Australia’s vast cultural and linguistic diversity whilst assembling the highest-quality cast members available for the production.
A number of claims in an article on yesterday’s OnStage Blog are misinformed and misleading.
More than 50 percent of our cast members identify with an ancestry other than Australian. Of our lead cast, our Usnavi is Samoan; our Nina hails from Italian descent; our Vanessa is from Uruguay; our Kevin and Camila are from Brazil. Our supporting cast is comprised of performers with Latino, Islander, Asian, Middle Eastern and American ancestry.”
In a final announcement released on September 28, the show’s presenters stated that the entire production had been canceled after “consideration and community consultation.”
The statement follows:
“After careful consideration and community consultation, Matt Ward Entertainment wishes to advise of the decision to cancel the upcoming production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights at Brisbane Powerhouse.
We respectfully acknowledge concerns from the community regarding casting of the work and humbly accept that the public considers that we have not harnessed, at this time, a sufficient number of required authentic Latinx voices to tell this particular story.
While we are motivated by providing talented local performers the opportunity to hone their craft within a professional setting, and are proud of our team’s commitment to multicultural casting, we acknowledge the vitalness of cultural authenticity and the community’s concerns on this occasion.
To those who we have caused distress; please understand that our intention was only ever to tell this much-loved story and we offer our deepest regret and sincere apologies for any unintended offence.
To our talented cast, creatives and loyal patrons; we are grateful for your commitment and look forward to welcoming you to our next production.
Matt Ward Entertainment was created to provide development opportunities for local and emerging performing artists. We look forward to continuing on our mission with greater awareness and willingness to engage more deeply and authentically within our community.
We have learned so much from this experience and wish to thank those who brought these issues to our attention with respect and in the interests of raising awareness.”
Last summer a Chicago-area production of In the Heights also came under fire when a non-Latino actor was cast in the central role of Usnavi. In recent weeks, a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita was met with protests when non-Latinx actors were cast to play the Argentinian political leaders.