The Heat Is On: Touring Production of Miss Saigon Met With Protests at Minnesota's Ordway Theater

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08 Oct 2013

Manna Nichols and Charlie Brady
Manna Nichols and Charlie Brady
Photo by Bob Compton Photography

Kansas City Starlight Theatre's production of Miss Saigon, which is currently playing Minnesota's Ordway Theater, has met with protests from the community for its portrayal of the Vietnam War and Asian women.

The production, which has also performed in Hartford, CT, and Detroit, MI, opens at the Ordway Oct. 8. Performances continue through Oct. 13.

The musical, which features music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. and a book by Boublil and Schönberg, is an adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly set during the Vietnam War: It tells the story of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman and an American soldier.

The original Broadway production opened in 1991 and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning three. It ran for ten years, closing in 2001. Numerous touring productions, as well as local theatres, have also presented the show. A reworked revival is scheduled to play London in 2014. This is not the first time Miss Saigon has faced controversy; the original Broadway production met with objections from Actors Equity to the casting of Jonathan Pryce as a French-Vietnamese character called the Engineer.

This production marks the third time the Ordway has presented Miss Saigon, and Patricia Mitchell, president and CEO of the Ordway, said when reached by e-mail that the decision to bring the show back was inspired by the recent state of world affairs.

"With current events and recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are themes in this production — such as international intervention, war and its aftermath, that are still relevant today," she said.

Charlie Brady and Nkrumah Gatling
photo by Bob Compton Photography

On the website, Sheila Regan writes in an open letter to arts writers and theatre reviewers that Miss Saigon is "offensive" and urges people to boycott the production. Citing the portrayal and over-sexualization of Asian women, as well as the themes of colonialism and privilege and the "glorified suicide" at the musical's conclusion, Regan wrote, "The production deserves nothing more from us than our silence. We should not preview it, review it, interview anybody involved with it. The Ordway deserves nothing more than silence for this misguided and greedy decision. ...[The] reason they are doing this is to make money. Certainly, as arts supporters we should support the Ordway looking out for its bottom line, but to do so while spitting in the face of the Asian-American community, and indeed all people of color, is sickening."

Protestors did not respond to requests for an interview. 

According to the Minneapolis news site, protestors of the Ordway production demanded that the the Ordway apologize, offer refunds to ticket holders who desired them and promise never to mount Miss Saigon again. Mitchell declined these demands.

"We do appreciate and understand the concerns they've identified, but we also know that patrons of the Twin Cities arts community are astute consumers," Mitchell said about the objections to the production. "They do understand the many layers and discussion points of this show and can intelligently assess their own feelings towards the production and its merits."

In response to the protests, Mitchell said the Ordway Theater has reached out to several members of the Asian-American community to create a dialogue around the issues presented by the piece and that staff members of the Ordway participated in Cultural Conversations hosted by Mu Performing Arts and Minnesota Public Radio. The Ordway hosted its own Cultural Conversation Sept. 22, which all patrons were invited to attend; additional educational and resource materials were provided at the Cultural Conversation, on the theatre's website and printed in each of the programs.


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