Casting Controversy: Cincinnati Production of AVENUE Q Dreams Of A White Christmas Eve
There's a moment in David Henry Hwang's YELLOW FACE when an Asian-American playwright defends his choice to cast an Asian role in his play with an actor who, to his colleagues, looks totally white.
While the playwright angrily insists that their judgment is marred by stereotypes of what a person of Asian descent should look like, the audience is already aware that the actor was cast because of a misunderstanding and is not Asian at all.
This kind of racial identity issue recently came into play over the casting of the character named Christmas Eve in Cincinnati's recent Warsaw Federal Incline Theater production of the hit musical Avenue Q, which continues to run Off-Broadway at New World Stages.
As she describes herself in song, Christmas Eve immigrated to America from Japan and she is, at times, scripted to speak with her home country's accent.
Howard Sherman, interim director of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts and director of the Arts Integrity Initiative at The New School College of Performing Arts, cites in his blog a Cincinnati Enquirer article by David Lyman, describing the actor playing Christmas Eve as undoubtedly giving the appearance of being a white person.
Rodger Pille, director of communications and development for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, the Incline's parent organization, defends the casting choice by pointing out that the actor's great-great-great-grandmother was Ma'ohi, from the island of Tahiti.
"Once we knew that she did have some of that descent, we felt we could move forward with the casting," says Pille. "That was enough for us. We didn't want to be the arbiter of what percentage Asian she was."
Erin Quill, the original understudy for the role of Christmas Eve on Broadway, and an outspoken advocate for authenticity in racial casting, disagrees.
"CE (Christmas Eve) is an immigrant from Japan," Quill writes. First generation. There is an obligation to showcase the character in such a way that honors the writers' intentions. CE is Japanese. It is in the script."
Click here for the full article, which includes opinions from Avenue Q co-author Robert Lopez and the role's originator, Ann Harada, who is seen below with the rest of the show's original Broadway cast performing at the 2004 Tony Awards.
Winner of three Tony Awards -- including Best Musical -- Avenue Q is the hilarious and heartwarming tale of a group of 20-somethings fresh out of college -- people and puppets alike -- who lives as neighbors on a street in New York where they've come to pursue their big dreams and search for their purpose in life.
AVENUE Q has music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty, and is directed by Jason Moore. Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, with puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon,Avenue Q has musical supervision by Stephen Oremus, choreography by Ken Roberson, scenic design byAnna Louizos, costume design by Mirena Rada, lighting design by Howell Binkley, and sound design by ACME Sound Partners.