The Fairy Princess has, of course, written extensively about white washing the Asian Americans out of the Musical Theater, Major Motion Pictures and mocking them on International Awards shows….and it has all be for ‘the greater good‘.
She does not benefit personally over pointing out that the King in King and I should be of Asian descent, she’s never going to play the King.
She has pointed out in the past that Mrs. Anna was of mixed Asian descent, but this was more for general knowledge and not for her personal benefit.
She has never been requested for a production of The Mikado, but she does not want API’s tortured when they go see it, so she has asked that productions be more sensitive about putting on this operetta.
TFP was not going to jump into to replace Tilda Swinton or Emma Stone – simply put – most of what she writes about is not personal, it’s common sense.
Recently she was sent an article about a production of Avenue Q that is up in Cincinnati written by David Lyman, who pointed out the casting of Christmas Eve with someone who does not present as Asian or Asian American.
Let’s not beat around the Trekkie Monster – TFP was in the Original Broadway Company of the show in question and while she has been told but never shown photos that this role has been whitewashed in regional theater before, and colleges etc – this is the first time she has read about anyone having an objection to it– for which she would like to thank Mr. Lyman and Cincinnati Actor, Elizabeth Molloy for ‘standing up’.
Now, we are all clear that Christmas Eve, who is supposed to be an immigrant from Japan, is to appear Asian – not due to exaggerated makeup or prosethetics a la Jonathan Pryce – the character is legitimately supposed to appear Asian.
The way they decided to solve a problem like an Asian in the Original Broadway Cast was to actually cast an Asian American in the role, Ms. Ann Harada. (And then TFP)
Crazy, right? TFP will just give you a minute to take that in. How you doing?
Yes, they did this crazy thing and wrote a part specifically for an Asian performer and they cast API performers! Over and over and over again. Like, they went out and auditioned real live API performers and…guess what?
In New York City, if there is a Christmas Eve, it’s a pretty safe bet she is being played by an API.
TFP does not even think this is up for debate, it just IS – just like, you know Aussie Hugh Jackman played Aussie Peter Allen, or like a Laura Benanti tweet that is funny, or the notion that Lin Manuel Miranda will rap in a musical – there are things that just ARE in the current musical theater canon, they just ARE – which is totally fun and fine.
Kick ball change.
Here is a photo from the 10th Anniversary of the show – a photo TFP likes to call ‘Ghosts of Christmas Eves Past‘. You will notice the inimitable Ann Harada in the center in navy, then left to right – Lisa Helmi Johanson, Sala Iwamatsu, Erin Quill, Hazel Anne Raymundo, and (future TONY winner) RuthieAnn Blumenstein.
Now, if one was to put this in “Harry Potter” speak – yes, you have some Purebloods and some half Muggles, but as one can see, one of the requirements to play the part of Christmas Eve was that it should be played by someone who naturally has API appearance because of things in the text.
There is an accent, which there should be because it is someone coming from another country to the USA, and what is your problem with accents – have you never met an Australian?
There is also the point of view of the immigrant, and the verbal syntax of an Immigrant to whom English is a second language.
The reason, continuing on all the other playwright vs. casting issues that have been cropping up lately, to cast an API in the role is because the role is written for an API!
Not only was it written for an API, it was actually written BY an API – one of the authors of Avenue Q, Bobby Lopez is of Filipino descent. Since then he has won more Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, an Oscar, and more than one Grammy – so…one would assume he knew what he wanted when he co-wrote the show with Jeff Marx & Jeff Whitty.
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Mr. Lopez is the youngest EGOT
winner on record and he accomplished it in the shortest time span on record – ten years!
There is actually no ‘gray area’ in regards to this character. Don’t believe TFP? On we go to the lyrics:
Christmas Eve enters and sings:
Your lives suck? I hearing you correctly? HA!
I coming to this country, for opportunities.
Try to work in Korean deli, but I am Japanese.
But with hard work I earn two masters degrees in social work.
And now I a therapist. But I have no clients.
And I have an unemployed fiance and we have lots of bills to pay.
It suck to be me. It suck to be me.
I say it sucka, sucka, sucka, sucka, sucka, sucka, sucka, sucka,suck!
It suck to be me!
Music & Lyrics by Bobby Lopez and Jeff Marx
So the first question that TFP wants to answer, regardless of the specifics of the Cincinnati production is – should non-Asians be cast in the role of Christmas Eve?
The answer please, Ms. Nicole Scherzinger?
When you cast a non-API person in the role of Christmas Eve, you wind up turning her into Mickey Rooney – and that is not cool – don’t believe TFP, take a look –
If the sight of that photo does not send shivers down your theater loving spine, then
You may be the most liberal person you know – you may love the show with every fiber of your being, you may be a card carrying member of everything – if you cast a non-Asian person as Christmas Eve, the song is not the only thing that is a little bit racist.
TFP acknowledges that the Actress playing Christmas Eve in the Cincinnati production has stated that her ‘great, great, great grandmother was from the island of Ma’ohi in Tahiti’.
Wait..how many is that removed? Count with TFP, she’s bad at math…
The Actress, Her Parent, Her Grandparent, Her Great Grandma, Her Great Great Grandma, and her Great Great Great Grandma. That is seven! A -ha- ha! Or perhaps six…TFP is not sure if you count the last person…or does one not count the first person?
(Now, if one was Native American and had ‘blood quantum‘ laws to deal with, that would be an issue, but APIs do not have that)
The theater producers said they did not want to ‘judge’ someone on their Asian-ness so they went forward and cast her.
Obviously their next production is Show Boat.
DNA is DNA – that is not the issue. The issue is – is the story being served in a way that honors the original intention?
TFP would say that the casting of Gary Coleman and Christmas Eve are of tremendous import to the effectiveness of the show.
In a show that deals with stereotype and intolerance, it’s important to keep the authors’ intent in mind when producing it. It is not all about “The Internet is for Porn” and “Loud as the Hell“, it’s also about “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist‘ – or did you not watch the last Democratic Debate in Flint?
The main issue is that Christmas Eve is an immigrant character. First generation. The background of her story is such that it provides reason to use her to skewer certain tropes, particularly, for example when Brian, her fiance, in order to prove he is not racist, says to Princeton, “How many Oriental wives have you got?” – after which, Christmas Eve brings the rain, and then acknowledges her own prejudices.
Which affects the show.
Which means this falls under the domain of the Director, Elizabeth A. Harris. She was backed by the Producers. They are the ones who are in charge of casting, no Actress casts themselves.
In this case, in Cincinnati, the casting of Christmas Eve affected the reviewer’s ability to enjoy the show so much, that he spent the first half of his article discussing the history of “Yellowface’ casting in theater and film.
One imagines that there were others in the audience similarly affected.
Unless they were all Trump supporters, and then one supposes they all thought it was great.
Look, TFP always has a hard time convincing people that she is 2nd generation Irish American…
so she can acknowledge that the struggle for mixed race people is real – after all, she has never been cast in The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
As to other reports that Christmas Eve is regionally played by Caucasians – this post is to acknowledge the profound sadness that TFP feels seeing how easily people dismiss the contributions of API female performers in musical theater. How our ‘worth’ is viewed as inconsequential beside someone’s need to tell this lovely little ‘dirty puppet show‘.
Just do the typical, insensitive production of The Mikado if you are going to whitewash- at least we know what to expect.
(Kidding, totally kidding on that one – DO NOT DO A RACIST MIKADO)
The role of Christmas Eve is in one of…here is the list – Flower Drum Song, Miss Saigon, Avenue Q, Allegiance, School of Rock, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, King and I – 8 musicals where an API female is ‘required’.
South Pacific does not always cast Bloody Mary with an API, so though one thinks of it as ‘required’, TFP has seen it an equal number of times with someone who is a minority, but not API.
It is the only straight up comedy.
Spelling Bee is comedic, but has dark moments, TFP does not consider it as broad a comedy piece.
Even hearing about college productions or local productions where she is played with no thought for what the authors’ intended gives TFP ‘the sads‘.
As she said previously, the production in Cincinnati is not the first time she has heard of this issue – friends have mentioned it in passing, like seeing Bigfoot or a Unicorn – but this is the first time she has read such a passionate questioning from the local press, and for that reason, she felt she had to address it.
As stated at the top, this is somewhat personal, and if TFP has stuck up for The King, and the Orphan of Zhao, and everyone else – she must stick up too for Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve is a game changing API character in musical theater – there is nothing submissive about her – she is ballsy and tough and she has a kick ass song, as well as punchlines.
It is not too different from Jessica on Fresh off The Boat on ABC.
(FOTB has been renewed for a third season, a historic third season, btw.)
For that reason, the casting of Christmas Eve needs to be done with acknowledgment and respect – or it should not be done. If you cannot find an appropriate Gary Coleman or Christmas Eve – do not produce the show. If you went ahead and those two parts were knowingly stripped of their ethnicity, that just proves that you do not understand the show at all.
TFP does not accept the ‘we cannot find any’ excuse that will no doubt be lobbied whenever the whitewashing of Christmas Eve comes up for two reasons –
First – the show is almost (ack!) 15 years old, just like any other show over a decade old, in that time, people have learned to sing this music.
Second: If someday it may happen that an Eve cannot be found – go down your little list and make a damn phone call and get someone who can do the role! This excuse can be solved by an index finger, a smart phone, and free wifi at a coffee shop.
It is really that simple.
However, let’s throw it back to Christmas Eve herself – she allows for knowledge to be acquired – let us hope this ‘experience’ of being called to the table was worth the ‘learning’ it shared.
TFP was reminded of this quote by Ann Harada, which was pretty badass, in response to this situation.
Here’s the quote:
Now that everyone has fallen out of the nest and been eaten by a bird a few times, let’s try and do better.
Top L-R: John Tartaglia, Carmen Ruby Floyd, Beverly Jenkins, Producer Robyn Goodman, Erin Quill, Phoebe Kreutz, Producer Kevin McCollum Lower Left Photo: Star of MEMPHIS: J. Bernard Calloway Lower Rt Photo: Carmen Ruby Floyd & Erin Quill