Archives for posts with tag: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Fairy Princess is pleased to announce that she will be a Keynote Speaker at the LA Stage Alliance’s Stage Day Conference on May 18, 2013!

Wait, I have to do a speech? Awww nuts....

Wait, I have to do a speech? Awww nuts….

This is SO exciting! I mean, we will get to shoot the breeze and talk about all those silly kerfuffles that happened with Asian American representation in Theater over the last year, and oh MY will we laugh because it was all so….

Sorry, wait a minute – what’s that you have there?

Ah yes, Drama Desk nominations – so exciting, The Fairy Princess knows so many on this list, let’s take a look:

Billy Porter for KINKY BOOTS – well, naturally – he is amazing in that show. Christiane Noll for CHAPLIN – she’s so talented, remember her turn in RAGTIME as Mother? Oh, I loved it so much…

The Cast of WORKING is getting recognized! Nice!


Oh look, HERE LIES LOVE which is now at The Public is getting quite a few nods – Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Director of a Musical, Outstanding Lighting Design, Outstanding Lyrics and Outstanding Music – oh they must be so pleased!

Yeah, they look pretty happy

Yeah, they look pretty happy

Ok, going down the list and going down the list and….ummmm – hold please….let me look at this list for Best Featured Actor and Actress in a Musical….oh dear.





I thought we agreed!

I mean AAPAC made a statement!

The Roundabout Theater agreed to a close door meeting to discuss this…this…the…’Brownface’ and the faux Bollywood accents and the…I feel like I am Foghorn Leghorn and all the Award Committees are trying to prove they are chicken hawks!

Lemme get this straight Drama Desk Awards – in a musical about Asians, played by Asian Americans, there are no Individual Nominations (And btw, that is totally fine and happens a lot and it is not the reason for the following outburst).

But the people wearing heavy makeup and using crazy Bollywood gestures have Nominations for Best Featured Actor and Actress in A Musical!

For being directed to inhabit their roles with what the The New York Times said was “…silly imitation exoticism …in absurd burnt-umber makeup”

(The Fairy Princess wants to be quite clear, that no Actor or Actress takes the stage and gives any sort of performance in a Broadway revival without direction, so she is fairly certain that the choices made to portray Neville and Helena Landless were not from the Actors. This is not about the talent or a personal attack on these particular actors)

(Obviously the Actors do not go around their daily lives striking these kinds of poses – that would be RIDICULOUS)


Those two have the nominations, not these two…

Mr & Mrs. Ferdinand Marcos as played by Jose Llana & Ruthie Ann Miles

Mr & Mrs. Ferdinand Marcos as played by Jose Llana & Ruthie Ann Miles

Again, so we are clear…these two

Rather unfortunate photo

Hmm, -Rather unfortunate photo

And NOT any of the people pictured here

HERE LIES LOVE...and Asian American Love

HERE LIES LOVE…and Asian Americans…er…Asian American Love

The Fairy Princess has a question for the Drama Desk Nominating Committee – If you nominate Caucasians made up to resemble what is a stereotype of an Asian person, isn’t that, well…endorsing the use of stuff like….oh, I don’t know….



Or, well….



Oh Drama Desk Committee, you have many, many things to worry about, so I will give you the answer…it’s not B.


Because you see, the makeup is only a few kick ball changes away from..(.and I so hesitate to use this photo because, well, it’s AWFUL), but you see, by endorsing those kinds of performances with such a distinguished award, oh Drama Desk Nominating Committee, you are only a few shades away from endorsing…uh…THIS

Yeah, remember when people thought THIS was ok? (TOTALLY NOT OK!)

Yeah, remember when people thought THIS was ok? (TOTALLY NOT OK!)

Aha! THIS is the part where everyone is going to get mad, and argue that using Brownface or Yellowface is fairly standard in our industry – alive and well since the 1800’s, and that Caucasians wearing exaggerated makeup to resemble Asians is, in no way, comparable to Minstrel performances that characterized and dehumanized African Americans shamefully in this country.

Because… let’s face it – everyone did The Mikado in High School, and they LOVED wearing the Yellowface, they thought it was fun! They did not, and do not think absurd shuffling, and forgetting consonants and wearing eyeliner from the corner of their eye till it nearly touches their ear was bad! They had a good time!…. And then they went and lost their virginity at the Cast Party afterwards – and yeah, they were probably still wearing the makeup because…’that’s hot’.

Cuz to us….

Cindy Cheung & Christine Toy Johnson at La Jolla's talkback...they look so pissed off I feel like I need to go practice piano and bring home an A plus.  TIGER ACTRESSES! RRROOOOWWRRR

Cindy Cheung & Christine Toy Johnson
at La Jolla’s talkback…they look pissed, huh?

Yellowface or Brownface is the SAME as Blackface.

It really, really is.

Because what it says is – and think about this just a bit before everyone flies off the handle and starts bashing me on – (and yes, I have seen the posts – nice grammar, Crackpots) – when you erase Asian faces from roles where they are possible, have them played in heavy makeup by Caucasians whose very portrayals mock their heritage, and then endorse those portrayals with an AWARD, it tells us one thing – loud and clear.

It tells us we don’t count.

And here’s the thing…if there is one thing we are known for, it’s being able to count.

It says “We are so used to not seeing you, that when we do see you, well…you are not as we had imagined, so we’d rather just forget the you that is you, and you know…make it up.”

Etcetera, Etcetera, Etectera….

I mean, if you can see this from space….



But when you go to the theater where there is a South Asian character and you don’t see this…


You see this…


Something is rotten, and we are nowhere near Denmark.

What are ‘we’ supposed to think? What would YOU think?

The Fairy Princess is NOT calling The Drama Desk Awards racist, because that would be absurd!

There have been many past winners of the Drama Desk Awards who are, in fact, Asian American – Francis Jue for David Henry Hwang’s YELLOWFACE


(In context, a title disturbingly appropriate.)

Deborah S. Craig won for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for her breakthrough performance as Marcy Park.MV5BMjI4MTA4MDU1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTExNzQ3Ng@@._V1._SX467_SY700_

So it is NOT that The Drama Desk Awards are racist – and let’s stop throwing that word around like a frisbee – it is that…it is that they are so used to seeing Caucasians play Asian, that it didn’t mean a damn thing to them. And that is the saddest part of all.

Theater is supposed to break the stereotypes, not endorse them.

It’s supposed to lift you up, and by ‘you’, I mean everyone.

The Drama Desk Awards DO have 3 Nominations this year for Asian Americans –

Joel de la Fuente: OUTSTANDING SOLO PERFORMANCE – Hold These Truths

Jane Wang – OUTSTANDING MUSIC IN A PLAY – Strange Tales of Liaozhai

Eugene Ma – OUTSTANDING MUSIC IN A PLAY – The Man who Laughs

The Fairy Princess wishes them well. She actually wishes everyone well – but truthfully what would be great is if the cast of HERE LIES LOVE sits right in front, so no matter WHO wins, they are seen.

We. Are. Seen.

And, scene.

Finally, for all the people who comment, who are sooooo threatened by the ability to see something a different way, I just ask you – why do you like theater? Do you like it because you learn something when you go? Do you like it because it can make the world brighter? Or, do you just like calling me a bitch?

Because the reason I write this is not because I ‘like’ theater, it is because I love theater. I have devoted my life to it. I just want it to be better, for everyone. I want people of all races to be able to GO to the theater and see themselves.

Seeing yourself is powerful. Seeing yourself is empowering. Seeing yourself is halfway to becoming the person you want to be.

I had a friend who is unfortunately gone now, and what he always used to say is “If they knew better, they would do better” – and this blog is to point out that sometimes people do not know, and I just try to explain to them that they need to do better. So simple. I just say it…well….

In a really snarky way.

Because…that’s me.

Anyway, this is a thrilling awards season, and I wish all the Nominees of everything well, besides….



The Fairy Princess has been lax – and I admit it. I have not been blogging because there has been a new addition to the family.  My Niece arrived on December 28, adding to the fun of my having a now, 8 month old, and my first niece who is nearing her second annum. So…blogging came a very distant second, third, fifth to the holidays and the naming days and actually all other days that could possibly have a name. I apologize, my wings were trying to beat quickly, but there was just SO MUCH happening I could not get a clear thought in my head.

Until I saw this.

What is that? Ceylonese Arm Wrestling?

What is that? Ceylonese Arm Wrestling?

Was ist das?

You may ask – and you may ask it in German, as I have just done. German would be the way to address this issue because, this issue cannot be addressed properly in English. It should have been able to be addressed in Sinhala or Tamil, but that would assume one has familiarity with the languages of Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon,  and one cannot assume, as Felix Unger warned us so many years ago.

If you have not been flap ball changing around The Broadway, you may not know that there is currently a revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood playing at The Roundabout Theater. The premise of Drood, which was a novel that was never finished by Charles Dickens, is that we are watching a ‘show within a show’. Meaning we have been transported back in time to Victorian England to watch a show done by a Thespian troupe, who are giving us a show about a book that was never finished.

The musical has no ‘definitive’ ending. All we really have is the setup, and then after poor old Edwin has been ‘whacked’ every which way but Sunday, the audience gets to vote on who ‘did it’. Much merriment ensues. Technically you have to see the show several times to see all the different ways in which Old Edwin bites the dust. Therefore not only is it a show within in a show, it’s a moneymaker within a moneymaker. If you love it, you will go back to see it over and over until you are satisfied that you have exhausted every possible motive everyone could have possibly have had, and you will bask in the knowledge that you, good Sir, are a bona fide fan.

It is all very good to want to place things in Victorian England, I wouldn’t mind a place there myself – next to the Dowager Countess of Grantham if possible – but this is impossible because we live in 2013.

Yes, hard as it is to believe it, The Fairy Princess is beating her wings after the Mayan Calendar told us that life as we knew would end. (They did not predict the end of the world, the History Channel has been very clear on that matter, don’t get it twisted). And the Fairy Princess knew that two of the characters in the musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, are supposed to be from Ceylon. Which is now the country of Sri Lanka. But in 1870- something was Ceylon.

So when there was an announcement that Drood was coming back to Broadway, I was eager to see who would be cast as Helena and Neville Landless. All I knew was that they were both to have been from Ceylon. I have never been to Ceylon now Sri Lanka, guess where it is?


Oh.  Sri Lanka borders Asia, The Middle East, and the Indian Ocean. If one were to own property in Sri Lanka, one could probably even see parts of Africa from their backyard. (Which would make Sarah Palin happy – she likes land masses viewable from backyards). The Fairy Princess loves research though, so she thought since she now knows WHERE Sri Lanka is, she would take a look at the people of Sri Lanka.

What do people of Sri Lanka look like? I thought I would take a look – Sri Lankan people in 1870…go!

Ceylonese Man Circa 1870

Ceylonese Man Circa 1870

If I were casting the character of Neville Landless in Drood, I imagine that I would look to people who have appeared in musicals, on Broadway or National Tour, who may have South Asian heritage. (Actually you could go a lot of different ways with this, given where Sri Lanka is, but let’s go with the supremely easy choice of South Asian).

It would be refreshing to have that Diversity in the Cast of a Broadway show. It would also fit with the storyline – in fact, it is WRITTEN IN the storyline, and…there are lots of people to bring in and sing for it. After all, since the Original Drood hit Broadway, we have had a whole crop of South Asian Broadway performers setting new standards. It is awesome! So…who would I call?

I might go with Aasif Mandvi, who played Ali Hakim in the last Broadway Revival of OKLAHOMA! (And yes, I had to sing it to spell it)

Or…I mean, you could go with Dev Janki,

Dev Janki - Recipient of the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Choreography

Dev Janki – Recipient of the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Choreography

Or certainly, without a doubt I would call the star of the only South Asian Broadway show, BOMBAY DREAMS, the one and only Manu Narayan Here’s a clip of him (pay no attention to Mike Meyers or Jessica Alba, you can DO it!)

Yep, any of the aforementioned Dudes would have done a great job of representing a Native of Ceylon, and they have the chops to sing it, dance it, and have been on Broadway stages previously. Easy peasy. I was able to cast that part in two minutes.

But let’s see who Director, Scott Ellis went with:

Andy Karl, Native of Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka)

Andy Karl, Native of Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka)

Now, Wikipedia tells us that it is not actually clear to what extent Helena and Neville Landless are Ceylonese, or Sri Lankan. Perhaps the choice was that Neville Landless is NOT a Native of Ceylon, perhaps he is a British Ex-Pat, who just lived there and got some sun….

I could have gone with that, till  the NY Times pointed out, “silly imitation exoticism‘ and “...absurd burnt umber makeup‘. Which seems to imply that the Director, Scott Ellis, is actually meaning to have a Caucasian Man put on “Brownface’ and dance around in an imitation of what is South Asian traditional dance.


Who would DO that?



Ok, perhaps the part of Neville has been cast with what the NY Times calls ‘absurd burnt umber’ leanings, but let’s turn to the part of Helena. After all, brothers and sisters don’t always look alike.

I mean, in my Family, which is Eurasian, we all look completely different. I decided I would try again – given that Neville has been painted in shades of Umber, I guess that the Director was going for a “Native” look – so I took a Google walk, and here is what a Native Girl from Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka) looked like in the 1870’s.

A Native Girl of Ceylon circa 1870

A Native Girl of Ceylon circa 1870

And here is how Director, Scott Ellis saw the role:

Jessie Mueller, Native of Ceylon circa 1870

Jessie Mueller, Native of Ceylon circa 1870


How awkward.

This is as bad as a white guy playing the King of Siam…oh wait…yeah, see – that rarely happens anymore. This is as bad as the Engineer being played by Jonathan Pryce!

Yeah, ummm, Broadway doesn't DO this anymore, right?

Yeah, ummm, Broadway doesn’t DO this anymore, right?

The issue is not whether or not Helena and Neville are technically Ex-Pats of England brought up in Ceylon, or that this is a show within a show and they are portraying actors from Victorian England who would have portrayed natives of Ceylon in burnt umber makeup – the issue is – why?

Why would you, in the year 2013, find it a strong directorial choice to have two Caucasian actors put on makeup and ‘exoticism’?

If they are English ex-Pats, wouldn’t they be as Caucasian as they both are, but just wear the Native dress and perhaps have an accent? OR…here is a thought – if you are to make the determination that the characters are Native Ceylonese, maybe cast some Actors who look like they could be from that area?

I mean, why Cast this way in the year 2013?

This just does not make any sense!

This is like telling me that Julie Taymor and Bono hang out and go for long walks together! This is like saying that Porgy & Bess should have had an All Asian American Cast! This is like saying that The M*therf*cker with the Hat should be cast with all White Peo…oh wait, didn’t they do that in Connecticut? Nevermind. It’s Connecticut. The point is – all those thing are ridiculous!

I mean, if Neville and Helena were from Africa – which, as you can tell on the map, is just right across the sea from Sri Lanka, and NOT implausible, would you allow Caucasian actors to put on Blackface? They damn well wouldn’t. And THAT is actually Equality – if you would not do it to one Minority, you do not to it to the Others. Even Steven in this case, works just fine.

But wait, they will probably say that they looked, but could not find any South Asian Actors. Yes, yes, we hear this all the time – no Asian actors to be found, thus we were FORCED to use Caucasians in the role.

Really? Couldn’t find any South Asian Actors and Actresses….I see….what? They were all off working for the Wachowskis on their next Sci Fi movie because Tom Hanks is now going to do Broadway and there was an Opening? Right. Nice try.

I mean, is the whole cast of the Bombay Dreams busy? 

The Fairy Princess is astounded. Here is a show which is written to include South Asian characters, and they were erased in favor of a what? In favor of a Mikado-esque depiction of the Natives of Ceylon now Sri Lanka!

(Before we get too crazy, please note: Actors are hired, directed, and give the performances that the Creative Team wishes them to give. So no hating on Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller – they are both very talented Broadway performers. All my Caucasian friends who have seen the show have raved about it. As for the rest, the Fairy Princess is reasonably assured you would understand their feelings.)

Most would ask why, Fairy Princess? Why does this tilt your tiara?  It is a limited run, and who is this really going to hurt? I mean really?

What effect can one show have on an under represented group?

Well, l received a Casting Breakdown from a new show that the Acorn Theater is presenting, it’s called BUNTY BERMAN PRESENTS -It is a show about Bollywood. It is written for an entire Indian Cast by a writer from England named Ayub Khan Din.

Here is the first line of the Breakdown:

NOTE: We are open to seeing Actors who are Non Indian, but who can believably play Indian Characters.

I mean, if South Asian people don’t get to play South Asian on Broadway – why should they get to play themselves Regionally? Why, when it is so FUN for Caucasians to put on thick makeup and accents and have a rip roaring, R and L dropping, Sari wearing heck of a time?

The Fairy Princess has no answer for this. The Fairy Princess finds this very sad.

So five smacks of the wand to The Roundabout Theater and Director Scott Ellis – you had a chance to be a leader, and embrace Diversity in a show where it is part of the plot, and you chose not to. And if you still do not see what effect the casting of a Broadway show can have, what the trickle down is, then please go and re-read that line from the Bunty Berman Presents Breakdown.

And you know what?



A Statement just released by AAPAC:

Visit our website:

AAPAC Opposes Brownface in Roundabout Broadway Production

After seeing The Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and receiving numerous complaints about the use of brownface in the production, AAPAC feels it is necessary to release the following public statement:

We were deeply disappointed to see white actors impersonating characters of South Asian descent complete with brown grease paint, appropriation of costumes and dance movements and relying on stereotypes in place of characterization.  The obvious talents of the actors notwithstanding, the use of brownface had the effect of being extremely surreal and alienating, as if a joke was being told that was not intended for the Asian American community to hear.

We understand that the racism inherent in this musical is a reflection of the social mores within 19th century British panto and Music Hall traditions.  Director Scott Ellis was being true to tradition, historical precedent, and to the story itself.

However, we would assert that if these characters came from the British colonies of Jamaica or Cameroon, and not the British colony of Ceylon (now present day Sri Lanka), blackface would never have been utilized in the same casual way.  Today, you would never see a white actor in blackface playing the title role in “Othello” with the excuse of, “oh, well, that’s what was done in Shakespeare’s day.”  We wonder why minstrelsy is acceptable when it comes to Asians?

The Roundabout production seems to show little awareness of the long history of Asian impersonation we are trying to put behind us or how racial politics and demographics have changed even in the 28 years since this show first premiered.  There were a myriad of ways Mr. Ellis could have handled this issue with more sensitivity.  For one, he could have hired actors of actual South Asian descent.  Or, if he wanted to preserve white actors in these roles, the use of brownface would have been more ironic or satirical had the entire ensemble been cast multi-culturally.  This would have been particularly effective since Hispanic-American star Chita Rivera was already in the cast.  However, we have heard from quite a few members of the Asian acting community, including those with major Broadway credits, that requests from their representatives to secure an audition were denied.

The Roundabout Theatre Company does not have a good record when it comes to inclusive casting.  Last year, we released a report looking at the percentages of actors of color hired at 16 of the top not-for-profit theatre companies in New York City over a five year span.  The Roundabout made our list of the five theatre companies least likely to hire actors of color.  In fact, they ranked second to lowest.

We are reaching out to the Roundabout to engage in closed-door discussions about these issues and are hopeful that they will accept our invitation.  We are certain that their record does not reflect a conscious policy of exclusion and we hope that by bringing these issues to a more conscious level, the Roundabout can become an ally in an industry-wide commitment to more inclusive casting.

In the meantime, if you feel as strongly as we do, it would be very helpful if you take two minutes to send Artistic Director Todd Haimes a short missive via their FB page:

Until there is conscious attention given to these issues throughout the industry, opportunities for American actors of Asian descent–and all actors of color– will never be truly equal.

Yours in Solidarity,

The AAPAC Steering Committee

Pun Bandhu, Cindy Cheung, Kimiye Corwin, Angel Desai, Siho Ellsmore, Christine Toy Johnson, Peter Kim, Julienne Hanzelka Kim, Nancy Kim Parsons, Kenneth Lee, Allan Mangaser, Eileen Rivera



Thank you for your post. Listening to our audiences is at the core of Roundabout’s values, so we appreciate all feedback and take it very seriously.

Roundabout’s leadership team is planning to meet with Asian American Performers Action Coalition to discuss their concerns. In the meantime, we will refrain from further comment here on Facebook, and look forward to a constructive meeting.