The Fairy Princess has been writing about diversity in theater for close to two years now – and the message had been heard around the Globe – except, apparently by Opera Australia.
Luckily though, after reading this blog by Diva Knows Best, she knew that all was not completely lost – it just feels that way sometimes.
This is what was puzzling – Director Christopher Renshaw won the Tony Award for directing The King & I on Broadway, and as the King, he cast Lou Diamond Phillips, who is of Asian Heritage.
The Fairy Princess had several friends in that production, which was beautiful and award winning, and who inhabited the Small Musical of Rogers and Hammerstein with their usual professionalism, grace, and ability.
It is to their credit that the production was so well thought of, that Lincoln Center is planning another revival of it in 2015, which has not been announced officially, but which everyone knows is coming.
Even Playbill.com – who, no, has still not issued an amendment to their Twitter Contest to ‘name the next King” when they egregiously overlooked the fact that they published 4 Caucasian choices as potential Kings. (All talented men, all not of Asian Heritage).
The Fairy Princess is waiting, Playbill.com for that new article she suggested. Ahem. Seriously, where is it?
Anyhow, The Fairy Princess was troubled to see that though Director Renshaw had worked with talented Asian American leading men, when casting the new Australian National Tour with Opera Australia, he…ummmm…forgot?
It seems that everyone forgot that the King of Siam was a real person and this is what the King of Siam looked like:
How do you work on a musical that once won you one of the highest honors in your profession, and forget who you worked with and why the show ‘worked’ in the first place?
Because here is who Opera Australia chose to go with for The King, and of course, they insist it had nothing to do with the fact that he is dating the woman who is currently playing Mrs. Anna:
He looks more like he would be the King in some kingdom we have not reached yet on Game of Thrones because we are trying to read the books in conjunction with the television show so that we do not ‘spoil’ it for ourselves.
He does not look like this:
The Fairy Princess was upset, not only because she knows this is a huge cultural mis-step – but because…wait for it…The Fairy Princess is an Aussie.
Oy vey, oy vey, oy vey.
Yes, and my Chinese Australian Family has been part of the Australian Cultural Landscape since the 1870’s.
Yes, I said the 1870’s. We have all sorts of fun folks in the Family – War Heroes, Artists, Business People – people who have helped shape Australia, so it seems odd to me that in all of Australia – which, I know personally, has been diversifying since, well, the late 1800’s, that they could not find ONE person of Asian descent to play The King.
But they found a Tuptim (Jenny Liu), a Lady Thiang (Sh-Cheen Yu), and a Lun Tha (Adrian Li Donni) ?
Just no King.
In all of Australia, with all the Asians, and Eurasians, and Asian influx….not one? Really?
Dear Opera Australia, I guess you missed my speech last year.
And just between us, Opera Australia – The Fairy Princess could have informally polled her rellies, quite honestly, and found someone. Her Grandmother was one of 13 – she has hundreds of relations. Tons of musicians.
However, I will say this for Opera Australia – they had a bit of a backlash when they announced Mr. Rhodes as their King – (and by the way, this is not an indictment of Mr. Rhodes or his abilities, no performer hires themselves after all) and they listened to it – because people spoke up!
Way to go Oz!
The Fairy Princess is going to imagine that they did not understand that by hiring Mr. Rhodes they were doing this:
Perhaps they did not understand that Diversity = Dollars.
Which means, that quite a lot of people, theater bloggers and so forth, loudly stated that the casting of Mr. Rhodes was not something they were eager to see.
So when it dawned on Opera Australia that they were being ‘culturally insensitive’ and more importantly, that it would cost them money – they very quickly did this thing that they should have done in the first place when they decided that no one in Australia would ‘suit’.
They sent an email.
Isn’t technology amazing?
And they hired this guy:
Jason Scott Lee.
Beginning the tour in Melbourne.
He was in Hawaii. The Fairy Princess can tell you from many flights from the USA to OZ and back – Hawaii is actually a fairly reasonable flight Down Under- once we were in Hawaii, we were halfway there.
Right on, Opera Australia! (You should have done it in the first place, but…at least you paid attention)
So you see, my fellow Thespians – there is always hope. If people speak up, if people write, if people stand up for things that are simply right (diverse casting, freedom from captivity for cetaceans, no child trafficking), things CAN change.
My Friend, Anderson Jones always used to say “If they knew better, they would do better” and The Fairy Princess would like to acknowledge that Opera Australia and Director Christopher Renshaw have demonstrated that while, yes, it is too late to change the first leg of the tour, they can adapt to our more modern sensibilities about Casting.
As The King himself sings “Every day I do my best for one more day’
So, break a leg, Jason Scott Lee – we are all pulling for you, and that flight from Hawaii is not so bad…maybe you’ll get to fly over with these guys…