"This Is the Hour" — A Protestor, Cast Member and Blogger Weigh In On Boycott of Miss Saigon

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11 Oct 2013

Manna Nichols stars as Kim
Manna Nichols stars as Kim
Photo by Bob Compton Photography

A protest was staged outside Minnesota's Ordway Theater Oct. 8, the opening night of the Kansas City Starlight Theare's production of Miss Saigon

Between 100-200 people gathered to express their objections to the musical's portrayal of the Vietnam War, human trafficking and Asian men and women. The protest included speakers, local politicians, poets and dancers, as well as people chanting, "No more lies/No more pain/Miss Saigon infects your brain."

Prior to opening night, protestors had reached out to various community leaders and encouraged the media to not report on the show during its run. Three forums, organized by the local Asian-American theatre company Mu Performing Arts, had been held to discuss the show's themes and messages. The protestors had requested that the Ordway apologize, offer refunds to ticket holders who desired them and promise never to mount Miss Saigon again. The theatre declined these demands.

This production marks the third time the Ordway has presented Miss Saigon. The previous two productions were also met with protests.

"The Ordway Theater purports to be an organization which promotes diversity and multiculturalism, but it's very clear they have not listened at all to the Asian-American community," David Mura, a press representative of the Don't Buy Miss Saigon Coalition, said in an interview with Playbill.com.

"The Ordway's argument was constantly, 'This is a work of art. It's meant to provoke conversation,'" said Mura, a third-generation Japanese American who had protested the first production of Miss Saigon 20 years ago. "Our argument is that Asian Americans have been dealing with racist stereotypes for generations. We don't need the presentation of racist stereotypes to have a discussion about their negative effect on our community."

"We appreciate the perspective of those who criticize Miss Saigon and certainly support their right to protest. While there have been some who have objected to the production, we’ve also received many notes of support and thanks for bringing this show to the Twin Cities," Patricia Mitchell, CEO and president of the Ordway, said when reached by e-mail. "Patrons have strongly supported us and have told us they are thankful for the opportunity to see the show and make their own determinations about its merits." 

David Mura

Miss Saigon, 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, and 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.

The aspects of Miss Saigon that Mura said the coalition objects to include the romanticization of human trafficking and the portrayal of Asian women as being sexually submissive and available. He said the musical, which features an encounter between a 17-year-old Vietnamese girl who is forced into prostitution and her encounter with an adult white male American GI, presents the encounter as a love story and distorts the nature of prostitution and human trafficking.


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