Dallas Summer Musicals' THE KING AND I Casting Causes Controversy

Dallas Summer Musicals' THE KING AND I Casting Causes ControversyWhile many in New York are looking forward to the upcoming Broadway revival of THE KING AND I starting rehearsals in the coming week, a controversial decision to cast a Caucasian actor as King Mongkut in Dallas Summer Musicals' forthcoming production is generating the opposite response. As of January 23, The Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) wrote an open letter to Dallas Summer Musicals expressing their disgust with the organization's choice to use the practice of yellowface in their production.

Yellowface, or the practice of white actors donning overdone face paint and costumes that serves as a caricatured representation of traditional Asian garb, is a practice that has fallen out of favor and is offensive to both Asians and non-Asians alike. Productions of Gilbert and Sullivan's THE MIKADO, Katy Perry's geisha-inspired performance at the American Music Awards in November 2013, Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer in MISS SAIGON, and productions of Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY all are examples of contested uses of this practice.

Conversely, in recent years, the theatergoing world has seen the Asian-American actor embraced. David Henry Hwang's CHINGLISH, the Off-Broadway hit HERE LIES LOVE, and even Bartlett Sher's casting of the Broadway revival of THE KING AND I have given Asian-American actors and audiences opportunity to achieve, enjoy, and expect improved levels of authenticity in the American theater. Thus, it is no surprise that many find fault with Glenn Casale's casting of a Caucasian actor to play King Mongkut at Dallas Summer Musicals.

As AAPAC points out, at the most base level, "the casting of a white King dramaturgically undermines a story about a clash between Western and Eastern cultures." Yet, the issue runs deeper than that. "Asian impersonation denies Asians our own subjecthood. It situates all the power within a Caucasian-centric world view," states AAPAC in their open letter to Dallas Summer Musicals. "This begs the question, 'Who is your production really intended for?'"

Like many of the American classic musicals, there are already problems that exist in the book. THE KING AND I can and has been taken to task for issues surrounding othering and orientalism. Therefore, this poor casting decision is just another slap in the face to both Asian culture and the theatergoing populace.

"Dallas Summer Musicals touts itself as 'bringing the best of Broadway to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.' If that is true, then we expect you to take a cue from the standard that is being set on Broadway with the upcoming revival of THE KING AND I directed by Bartlett Sher who has appropriately cast Asian actors in all of the Asian roles," says AAPAC. Personally, I don't feel that that's too much to ask for.

To read the full open letter by AAPAC, please click here. AAPAC also asks that if you agree with their open letter that you re-post it to your own social media sites; share your own public missive on Dallas Summer Musicals' Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DallasSummerMusicals; take a moment to reach out to the President of Dallas Summer Musicals, Michael Jenkins, at mjenkins@dallassummermusicals.org; and/or to forward their message to any friends and colleagues in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who might have a vested interest.

Tell us what you think in the comments below!


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