"There Aren't Enough Roles," Says Tony Winner Ruthie Ann Miles on Diversity in the Theatre

Tony Awards   "There Aren't Enough Roles," Says Tony Winner Ruthie Ann Miles on Diversity in the Theatre
Tony winner Ruthie Ann Miles, starring in The King and I as head wife Lady Thiang, opened up about the need for more diversity onstage.
Ruthie Ann Miles
Ruthie Ann Miles Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Ruthie Ann Miles, who won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a musical for her performance as Lady Thiang in The King and I, shared her hopes for a future that features more Asian actors onstage.

Miles is the second actress of Asian descent to win a Tony Award. The first was Lea Salonga, who starred in Miss Saigon, and won Best Actress in a Musical in 1991. 

Miles attracted public and critical notice when she starred as Imelda Marcos, the controversial Filipino First Lady in the immersive musical Here Lies Love at the Public Theater before landing the role of Lady Thiang, singing the iconic solo "Something Wonderful" at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Read Playbill.com's interview with Miles about starring in Here Lies Love here.

The King and I, which marked Miles' Broadway debut, is one of few musicals that employ a large cast of Asian actors — a subject Miles addressed after accepting her Tony June 7, saying she hopes her two-year-old daughter will see more diversity when watching the Tony Awards in the future.

"We have a lot of amazing, talented people who just don't have a platform," Miles said of the community of Asian actors. "They don't have an opportunity. But they are working. They are going to class. They are hitting those auditions and doing readings, and they are striving and working so hard. But there's no place to practice, which is on the stage. There aren't enough roles. There aren't enough opportunities."

Read about the history of The King and I, including some controversial casting choices, here.

The lack of roles for Asian actors has been an ongoing discussion in the theatrical community; in January a Caucasian actor was cast as the King in a Dallas Summer Musical production of The King and I, and a public reaction drew much attention to the production. Casting was subsequently changed, with an Asian actor taking on the role.

Miles and co-stars Kelli O'Hara and Ashley Park discuss how the women of The King and I speak to modern-day audiences.

The upcoming Broadway season will feature actors of Asian descent in the musical Allegiance, which will star Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, "Star Trek" veteran George Takei and "Glee" star Telly Leung.

Ruthie Ann Miles
Ruthie Ann Miles Photo by Paul Kolnik

The musical, which is inspired by Takei's true childhood experiences, is described as such: "Traversing the lush California heartland, the windswept prairies of Wyoming and the battlefields of war-torn Europe, Allegiance tells the epic multi-generational tale of deep family loyalty, romance, humor, optimism and unparalleled heroism in the face of fear and prejudice against Japanese-Americans during World War II and beyond."

Miles said she hopes the future will hold productions that feature Asian actors in their casts but do not contain plots that are specifically about Asian people.

"I hope my daughter will be able to see shows starring Asian people that has nothing to do with an Asian story," Miles said. "She's part Korean, of course, and she's doesn't necessarily look like me. If she's an actor, she probably won't have the same difficulties that so many Asian actors have had. But I hope more than that that she will see diversity onstage in a way that will tell American stories. Not Asian stories, but American stories with Asian actors."

(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)

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