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Tam (Ashley Chan), Kim (Jennifer Hubilla) and Thuy (Bryan Geli) performed "You Will Not Touch Him" from the 2006 touring version of "Miss Saigon."

Michael Brosilow, Star Tribune

‘Miss Saigon’ critics call the musical hurtful

  • Article by: Rohan Preston
  • Star Tribune
  • September 10, 2013 - 11:02 AM

Theaters keep booking “Miss Saigon,” and protesters keep raising objections.

That scenario is likely to be repeated when the touring show opens a one-week engagement on Oct. 8 at St. Paul’s Ordway Center, the third time the theater has brought the show here.

The blockbuster musical, which opened on Broadway in 1991 and ran for 10 years there, has been met with objections mostly for its stereotypical Asian content.

“This is a show that should never be done again,” said Randy Reyes, artistic director of Mu Performing Arts. “It represents the Asian woman as oversexualized. It repeats the narrative of an Asian woman killing herself for a white man. There are issues about adoption and colonialism and privilege.”

Reyes moderated a heated and emotional forum Monday at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul that focused on the impact of stereotypes on the participants’ lives.

Writer and teacher David Mura said the show does not present anything new about Asians or Asian-Americans.

The musical, created by the same team behind “Les Misérables,” is set during the Vietnam War, revolving around a relationship between a white American GI and a Vietnamese prostitute. She kills herself so that their child can go to America.

“When we decided to do ‘Miss Saigon,’ we were not unmindful of the feeling within segments of the Asian-American community about this show,” said Patricia Mitchell, president and CEO of the Ordway. “I have friends who don’t like it at all and others who find it’s an excellent device for learning. We’re doing it because it’s a compelling piece of theater that can move people emotionally and make them think.”

“Miss Saigon” premiered in London in 1989, where it ran for 10 years. One of the main objections to its Broadway opening centered on casting. Jonathan Pryce, who is white, played the Asian male lead, the Engineer.

In the current tour, which the Ordway co-produced with venues in Detroit, Kansas City and Hartford, Orville Mendoza, who is Filipino-American, plays the Engineer.

“I wholeheartedly believe in this show,” Mendoza wrote in the Twin Cities Daily Planet on Monday. “The show deals with racism but it isn’t racist, in my opinion. The tone of the show is very specific. It neither glorifies prostitution, or war, nor does it whitewash a very real historical event in Asian and American history.”

“When I first saw it, I was blown away,” said Reyes. “I was 18 and had never seen that many Asian-American actors onstage in such a big production before. But now that I’ve grown, I see how hurtful it is. There are people who say it’s a learning opportunity, but you can teach someone about fire safety without burning them.”

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390

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