Hedy Weiss, theater and dance critic at the Chicago Sun-Times responded to an article on the Huffington Post about the recent controversy over Porchlight Music Theater’s casting of IN THE HEIGHTS in which an actor of Italian descent was placed in the lead role of “Usnavi”, a character hailing from the Dominican Republic. Weiss herself received some flack for a Sun-Times article announcing the cast of the musical as “unusually ‘authentic'”:
Those quote marks in her status, and the use of the word “authentic” itself being much discussed on social media.
Now, on a Huffington Post piece titled Why White Actors Should Not Be Cast In Latinx Roles—On Broadway Or Off, Weiss has made her first response to the casting issue in the comments section, saying “Do you think Jonathan Pryce should be banned from playing Shylock because he is not Jewish? Do you think you should only recruit murderers in Cook County jail to play Macbeth? It is called acting.”
Pryce, a white actor, was the subject of a controversy during the original London production of MISS SAIGON when he was cast as “The Engineer”, which he performed in heavy makeup to transform into the Asian character. When Pryce was to lead the original Broadway cast, Actor’s Equity Association barred him from performing the role. Producer Cameron Mackintosh then threatened to cancel the entire production, and Equity balked.
“This [is a] deeply troubling response from a chief theater critic” said Chay Yew, artistic director of Victory Gardens in a Facebook post. “By her ‘argument’, then Mr. Pryce was right to play the Engineer in MISS SAIGON. What next? More brown face? Black face? Yellow face?”
The casting of IN THE HEIGHTS, which to our knowledge is otherwise appropriately Latinx, has been the subject of much discussion recently in the Chicago theater community and beyond. Porchlight responded to the casting decision citing the legalities and community outreach in a PerformInk blog post.
Update: 7/31/16 11:25 A.M
A previous version of this article stated that the comment had been taken down. It has not. We also failed to mention Jonathan Pryce was eventually allowed to perform in the original Broadway Production of Miss Saigon. The article has been updated to reflect both points.
Update: 7/31/16 2:05 p.m.
Hedi Weiss has since addressed the backlash from her comment via her Facebook page.