The Fairy Princess wanted the weekend off.
After all, she had brought up a few uncomfortable topics in the last week – the TONYS and AFTER MIDNIGHT not having a Cast Recording…she thought she was done for the week. Plus which, she was just informed that – in what could only be termed as excellent timing – Lincoln Center Archives announced that they were going to tape AFTER MIDNIGHT for their records, so the show will not go quietly into that dark night, never to be heard from again.
The Fairy Princess was feeling good!
Until she read the New York Times review of the revival of The King & I currently up in Paris till June 29 –
The Fairy Princess has a few objections to this sentence in general – first, Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King & I is not a musical comedy. Which tells me that the ‘critic’ writing this piece has already veered away from credibility. He could have said that Théâtre du Châtelet is the premiere house for English language musical productions or something, but he chose to focus on comedy as the main characteristic of this house’s renown.
To that end, The Fairy Princess must concur because when she perused the article further, this production could only be labeled a farce, once one has seen the casting.
But let us look back…yet again….at the real King of Siam that is the basis for this character:
Ah yes, King Mongkut – quite a dignified man – a beloved man, a Siamese (now what we would call Thai) man.
An actual man.
Who actually lived and ruled and had children and prospered and was an actual living, breathing Asian man.
And this is what Théâtre du Châtelet and it’s Scottish director, Lee Blakely came up with:
The Fairy Princess is confused. With over 66,000 views of her blog on these varying incidents, she would have thought that she could actually retire now, we all have been seen, repeatedly telling the white people that this:
is not ok.
As one can clearly see from this photo – there are indeed, Asian heritaged dancers and singers in France, because there they are right behind the esteemed Lambert Wilson.
So the white washing of this production only applies to certain leads – check out Lady Thiang:
Yep, totally getting Queen of Siam from this photo – anyone else getting it?
The Fairy Princess is lying, there is no getting Lady Thiang from this photo.
That is what is a puzzlement about this production – they clearly know where Siam is, and they clearly know that Asian heritaged peoples should be IN Siam – because the singers playing Tuptim and Kralahome and Lun Tha not to mention the choir et al are, in fact, Asian heritaged singers and dancers.
It is just the two leads that are the ‘star’ roles where the story does not matter. It seems, in fact, a bit like friends got together and thought about a show they would like to do and then hired all the Asians as backdrop for their ethnic hubris, believing no one would notice.
The Fairy Princess noticed.
Now, everyone knows that France has innate problems with racism – there are articles like this one, and this one, and this one…it’s endless. There is a Wikipedia page devoted to racism in France, holy wow!
We get it France, you do not like anyone.
Heck, France didn’t even like MISS FRANCE!
It’s like hating brie or Impressionism or wine- how can you hate MISS FRANCE?
Though, curiously, you loved Josephine Baker…
So ironic – take it away Gigi –
Perhaps it is better to say, that while there is plenty of racism in France, both then and now, in the Arts, there has always been a home for Artists of Color. Some even called the freedom offered to People of Color in Paris in the 1920’s, a Renaissance.
Which is why it is curious that Théâtre du Châtelet would pick a piece that is meant to represent the ultimate struggle against racism and imperialism – The King & I – to perform, and then negate by it’s casting, the very lessons it was meant to impart.
Lessons about how exchanging and appreciating a different culture can be mutually beneficial, and ultimately, can lead to a new world order. For a country so steeped in the writers and efforts of Age of Enlightenment, it is sad that the France of literary traditions is making this choice – it is going against reason and individualism, and with the ‘tradition’ of yellow face.
A red headed Anna is also a puzzlement considering it is now widely acknowledged that the true Anna Leonowens was, in fact, Eurasian – or rather an Anglo -Indian as it would have been stated at the time. Which means that there could be a most interesting dynamic – a Eurasian schooling Asians on how to act British to save themselves from Caucasian invasion.
It would be… a sensation.
You may sense my frustration.
Perhaps, on another occasion.
(Apologies, could not stop myself)
In that scenario, one could take inspiration from Anglo-Indian actors of the past like, for example, Merle Oberon.
It would be both a startling and historically interesting way to go, The Fairy Princess would welcome a chance to view that kind of production of The King & I. That kind of production would take a Director of extreme vision and knowledge, and that would be a Director that The Fairy Princess, for one, would want to work with.
However one cannot just blame the Parisians for this casting kerfuffle, because they had help. They hired a formidable director and ultimately he chose the cast.
Director Lee Blakely does not hail from France, he is from the UK.
Here is where the BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnicity) Artists are going to go mad, because in the grand tradition of The Royal Shakespeare Company cleansing The Orphan of Zhao of its British East Asian Actors in a story about China, he chose a Caucasian to play an Asian – actually he chose two.
The Fairy Princess took a look at the resume of good ol’ Scotsman, Director Lee Blakely, and mostly, he directs Opera – which is a great thing. However in Opera, there is a carelessness and often a blatant disregard for the appearance of the singer – either racially or size wise (which is changing a bit, which is a shame) or anything else – which is a conceit that The Fairy Princess has discussed before, and which was answered by the English National Opera.
Sometimes the ethnicity of the character, in opera, cannot be accomplished by casting due to the restrictions placed on the role by the vocal demands. Again, things are changing, but in Opera, change is slow, and there is no ‘message’ in most operas – it is mainly about the love story and it is definitely about la voce.
Black World Class Heldentenor for Verdi’s Otello? Not yet.
However – The King & I is not an Opera, it is a Musical, and there is a message in it – as in all Rogers & Hammerstein musicals – issues of racism, sexism, imperialism and what those three things do to people caught in those circumstances. You cannot separate The King & I from those issues, or you have no show. Why? Because Oscar Hammerstein was concerned with and worked actively on those issues all his life.
Which any Director worth his or her salt should have known. Particularly one who studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, as Mr. Blakely did. Because when you study at a Royal Academy, they include theatrical history as part of your University courses.
The Fairy Princess knows this, because her MOTHER is an Advanced Teacher of Ballet in the Royal Academy System and she grew up hearing all about it. (The Fairy Princess did her Uni study in the USA, at Carnegie Mellon, so she has not studied at a Royal Academy herself – full disclosure.)
(And by the by, what the heck are they now teaching in those Royal Academy Conservatories that they are sending out Directors who regularly white wash minorities out of productions on every stage, in every art form?)
Not to mention that being from the UK and working within the UK, one would be unable to not see Actors of color as part of your regular activity as a Director. Yes, the BBC is having a problem with it’s diversity on screen, but Glasgow is in Scotland – and Scotland hosts the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest international theater festival which hosts artists from all over the world. So it would be categorically impossible for Mr. Blakely to have been unaware of Singers of Color, or that they exist in the world. Not to mention he has directed in the USA, in London, in France, and so forth.
While Mr. Blakely could, if he was casting Otello, legitimately say that he ‘could not find any‘ Black Heldentenors at this time in our history, could he say that he could not find Asian Actors to perform the role of The King and of Lady Thiang at Théâtre du Châtelet t?
No. He could not.
In fact, he has a ton in this production,
just not The King of Siam nor his First Wife, Lady Thiang.
So one has to ask oneself about this strategic white washing, the arrogance of having a white couple play “King & Queen of the Asians” and have the Cast of actual Asians have to fall to their knees every time at least one of these Caucasians enters the room.
It has to be difficult for this Cast.
The Fairy Princess would not like it herself.
It is a clear and potent message that the Director and Theater send to Actors of Color with this production – you will always have to kow tow to Caucasians, even if you hope to tell a semi-authentic story based on a historic events where you are supposed to be represented. It tells them, even in a story about you, we can erase you, and we will get rave reviews for doing so.
Ouch. Double ouch.
Are there Asian Heritaged Actors and Actresses who have extensive Broadway, West End, and World Credits to perform The King and I in the two of the leading roles written for Asian heritaged people?
And you can find them every damn day.
There are PLENTY of them.
The Fairy Princess is very tempted to LIST them, very tempted – but that would play into the supposition that they are hard to find, or that there are not these wonderful people called CASTING DIRECTORS whose job it is to keep that information handy.
Casting is not accomplished by magical little elves that leap out of the woodwork and whisper choices into a Director’s ear – they are hard working, theatrically savvy people who have an eye and an ear for talent, and they can and do, regularly go on massive searches to find the ‘right’ person for a role. It is a hard job, and given how much American stages and screens are changing now, it is worth acknowledging that without their dedication, this would not be the case.
Mr. Blakely and his team could have done what the Australian National Opera did when they screwed up and cast someone’s boyfriend as The King in their tour of King & I, (who was not Asian and the Aussies pitched a fit), they sent an email and got Jason Scott Lee in from Hawaii to finish the tour. They fixed it. Bravo to them for doing so.
But they will not ‘fix it’ in France. They will take their rave reviews and chalk up this kerfuffle to some cheeky Yank making a fuss over nothing.
Which is, of course, the danger because….wait for it…
The publishing of this ‘review’ in The New York Times, where the “oriental‘ decor and costumes is lauded, along with the three Caucasian leads, where the names of those playing Tuptim and Lun Tha are not mentioned, though they are part of the structure on which the story is built, and where they give such a glowing review for the Director – is cause for concern.
Giving space in a paper like The New York Times to a production in which a white man is crowned “King of the Asians’ by a Director from the UK, is the wrong thing to do.
It is the wrong thing to do, New York Times.
Frankly, it is shocking that The New York Times, given how much coverage it has had to give to diversity representation on Broadway in the last two years based, in a large part, on the initial writings of this blogger,
would not think about how they are all but endorsing this Parisian production! Or of the ramifications?
Which is why The Fairy Princess writes this piece today – though yes, this Parisian production will close relatively soon, what lingers on is the glowing review in the highest regarded paper in New York – and that could make people at Lincoln Center bring Mr. Blakely in for a general interview. Though Bartlett Sher has been announced as the Director of the Lincoln Center Revival, there is always the ‘unexpected’ that can pop up, and ‘back up choices’ are always on a list somewhere.
Frankly, Asian American Actors who make their living on the stages of Broadway do NOT need a director like Mr. Blakely coming into our theatrical scene where we often have to contend with things like this:
Asian American Performers are already under represented, they do not need to provide the ‘oriental setting’ for some Caucasian Actor with a King complex, repeatedly falling to their knees when he strides on stage.
On a Broadway stage?
The New York Times should have said “NO” too. If they could not, in good conscience, refuse to publish this ‘review’, then the reviewer should have mentioned at least that it is perhaps a tradition at that theater to use movie stars like Mr. Lambert Wilson and that is perhaps why he was Cast – something to acknowledge that for Americans reading a review of a French production, that there are cultural differences that we may not, as Americans agree with.
The reviewer could have included a review of the Asian performers as well – like, their names, a photo, how they sang their duets…that endemic racial bias is infuriating to see in a paper of the stature of The New York Times.
That ‘review’ endorses ignoring the Asian Performers in The King & I – the reviewer loves the “oriental’, but could not be bothered with the Asians! They were just ‘set dressing’!
Overall, this production is not one that API Actors may even think to consider as being a threat to them –and that would be a mistake – because the sets are gorgeous, the direction, while hard to see in stills, could be absolutely magnificent – but we would be stupid to discount the message that in this King & I, it’s all about the white guy.
Because easily, they could do that here in the States – basing it on the ‘success’ in France.
We do NOT want that esthetic on our side of the pond – get it? We do not want it – it’s insidious, it’s dangerous, and it’s endorsed by The New York Times!
So start writing letters and sending emails, Asian Americans, to The New York Times and let them know what you think about their endorsement of this Parisian production, express yourself like Madonna always told you, because even if you think that people would say
about casting a Caucasian as Asian in New York City, let’s be clear, we are hanging on to Diversity in casting on Broadway by a very slender thread – and we are not being supported by regional theaters for the most part – they are doing what they want, when they want to and how they want to.
That could easily be a protest against a Caucasian King in The King & I, and we could be just as ignored. Because that Hugh Jackman does love to sing and he sells tickets….just sayin….
For crimes against theater – The Fairy Princess sentences Théâtre du Châtelet, it’s Director, Lee Blakely, and this ‘reviewer’ from The New York Times, 10 whacks of the wand because
and they can all….
KISS MY FAN TAN FANNIE!