When MISS SAIGON opened at the Theatre Royal in London in September 1989, it starred Caucasian Brit Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer, a half Vietnamese pimp and profiteer. Above is a photo of Pryce in the make-up (eye prostheses and bronzing cream) he wore onstage in order to appear Asian. The casting choice was compared by some to a minstrel show.

When the show was transferred to New York, protests by Asian theatre artists, including David Henry Hwang, spurred the Actors Equity Association (AEA) to refuse to allow Pryce to go on in the role. A spokesperson for AEA said, "The casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community."

The move ignited a war in the press between AEA and the Asian theatre community and producer Cameron Mackintosh. Mackintosh cancelled the opening night of the show, threatening to cancel the show altogether. AEA eventually backed down and allowed Pryce to go on in the role. The show ran for 4,000 nights and Pryce won a Tony award for his portrayal of The Engineer.


NY Times 7/13/90: On Stage: 'Miss Saigon' Casting Protested

Washington Post 8/8/90: Actors' Union Rejects Caucasian Star for Role in 'Saigon'

NY Times 8/8/90: Union Bars White in Asian Role; Broadway May Lose 'Miss Saigon'

NY Times 8/10/90: Equity Will Reconsider 'Miss Saigon' Decision

NY Times 8/17/90: Equity Reverses Saigon Vote and Welcomes English Star

The controversy surrounding MISS SAIGON did not end in 1990.