Falsettos in London premiere controversy

FranklinDickson2018
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#1
Posted: 8/25/19 at 12:17am

Have not seen this discussed.

https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/artists-accuse-producers-of-jewface-for-casting-non-jewish-actors-in-open-letter-1.487641

and the Producer's response

https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2019/producers-jewish-criticism-falsettos-casting/

Apparently Lapine and Finn were OK with the casting as referenced in the above link.  I would think if they were OK.......and they are both Jewish. 

So I guess in the re-casting, Whizzer would have to be a "half-Jewish" actor as he is depicted according to the script.

(And for what it is worth I am Jewish ---- and not the least bit perturbed by the casting as it is listed.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#2
Posted: 8/25/19 at 12:27am
It wouldn’t be right to ask actors what their religion is at the audition and cast your show based on their response.
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#3
Posted: 8/25/19 at 1:06am

Ok, oof. I have some very complicated feeling about it.

First let me say that I am a Jewish person.

Next, let me say that I am very familiar with (and in support of) of the discourse surrounding diverse and accurate representation in the arts. I understand and agree with the logic behind it, and I have spoken out in favor of it both on this board, and in my daily life.

The question of whether this applies to Jewish people is a complicated one. In general, I tend to think that it is ok for non-Jews to play Jewish characters. I certainly don't think it is anywhere near the same level of problematic as say, white people playing people of color, or cis actors playing trans characters. And on some level, I find myself a little bit irritated at my fellows Jews when they attempt to apply the same logic to us. When it comes to non-Jews portraying Jews, we do not have nearly the same weighty historical baggage as, for example, Black people have with Blackface. Nor are Jews a group that have historically been excluded from participating in the arts. We are not really harmed when Jews play non-Jews. So when people come out and say that it's problematic for non-Jews to portray Jews, it sometimes feels to me like a group of white people trying to gain sympathy and attention in this era of political correctness. 

And yet, it's also not that simple. Because while I don't think being Jewish is the same as being a person of color - and most Jews in the US and the UK are, for all intents and purposes, white - it is also not quite accurate to simply look at it as a religion. In my Jewish studies class in college, the Jewish people were often referred to as an "entho-religious group." While Jewish people can be of any ethnicity, Judaism itself has also become a sort of ethnicity in its own, particularly in the US (not a RACE mind you, but an ethnicity - it's an important distinction). And to ignore that, and simply say "well, we don't know their religion, and we're not allowed to ask" is ignoring the Jewish history and culture that makes it resemble an ethnicity. It's a complicated case that is difficult to categorize in our modern world of labels. So while I'm fine with the producers' decision to cast non-Jews, I don't necessarily agree with the specific reason they presented in their rebuttal. 

Also, while I don't think it's offensive for a non-Jew to play a Jew, I do sometimes find it distracting to see someone who just does not read as Jewish at all, and doesn't seem to understand the capture the cultural characteristics of the Jewish character. But that is just a question of making sure there are Jewish voices in the artistic process - whether it's the writers, the directors, etc - to help make it feel authentic. 
 

Updated On: 8/25/19 at 01:06 AM
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#4
Posted: 8/25/19 at 1:09am

Eye rolling so hard at this controversy.  Lapine and Finn cool with it? Then everyone else should chill. 

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#5
Posted: 8/25/19 at 1:29am

EllieRose2 said: "Eye rolling so hard at this controversy. Lapine and Finn cool with it? Then everyone else should chill."

Sadly, a day without outrage is simply not a good day for some folks.  The idea that only Jews can play Jews is so ludicrous, just as it would be if only Catholics can play Catholics and only Mormons can play Mormons - what's next?  Brits and Australians can't play Americans?  Oops, there goes a lot of excellent performances.  And around and around she goes, and where she stops, nobody knows.

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#6
Posted: 8/25/19 at 1:35am

Not that it matters but how many Jewish cast members were in the most recent bway revival, one? 

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#7
Posted: 8/25/19 at 1:53am

JBroadway said: "Ok, oof. I have some very complicated feeling about it.

First let me say that I am a Jewish person.

Next, let me say thatI am very familiar with(and in supportof) of the discourse surrounding diverse and accurate representation in the arts. I understand and agree with the logic behind it, and I have spoken out in favor of it both on this board, and in my daily life.

The question of whether this applies to Jewish people is a complicated one. In general, I tend to think that it is ok for non-Jews to play Jewish characters. I certainly don't think it is anywhere near the same level of problematic as say, white people playing people of color, or cis actors playing trans characters. And on some level, I find myself a little bit irritated at my fellows Jews when they attempt to apply the same logic to us.When it comes to non-Jews portraying Jews, we do not have nearly the same weighty historical baggage as, for example, Black people have with Blackface. Nor are Jews a group that havehistorically been excluded from participating in the arts. We are not really harmed when Jews play non-Jews. So when peoplecome out and say that it'sproblematic for non-Jews to portray Jews, it sometimes feels to me like a group of white people trying to gain sympathy and attention in this era of political correctness.

And yet, it's also not that simple. Because while I don't think being Jewish is the same as being a person of color - and most Jews in the US and the UK are, for all intents and purposes, white - it is also not quite accurate to simply look at it as a religion. In my Jewish studies class in college, the Jewish people were often referred to as an "entho-religious group." While Jewish people can be of any ethnicity, Judaism itself has also become a sort of ethnicity in its own, particularly in the US (not a RACE mind you, but an ethnicity - it's an important distinction). And to ignore that, and simply say "well, we don't know their religion, and we're not allowed to ask" is ignoring the Jewish history and culture that makes it resemble an ethnicity. It's a complicated case that is difficult to categorize in our modern world of labels. So while I'm finewith the producers' decision to cast non-Jews, I don't necessarily agree with the specific reason they presented in their rebuttal.

Also, while I don't think it's offensive for a non-Jew to play a Jew, I do sometimesfind it distracting to see someone who just does not read as Jewish at all, and doesn't seem to understand the capture thecultural characteristics of the Jewish character. But that is just a question of making sure there are Jewish voices in the artistic process - whether it's the writers, the directors, etc - to help make it feel authentic.

"

I agree with most of what you say here, however, the question I have is this: ARE Jews as equally involved with  the arts in Europe /the UK as we are here? (I dont know)

 

I've  always thought anti-semitism was much greater there as well. So, perhaps, its not fair for us to judge.

If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#8
Posted: 8/25/19 at 2:43am

brettarnett said: "Not that it matters but how many Jewish cast members were in the most recent bway revival, one?"

I think the only fully Jewish cast member in the last revival was Brandon Uranowitz, and the closest after that was Anthony Rosenthal who is 1/4th. He's more Jew-ish.

Personally, I don't think the cast not being Jewish is that bad. Again, from what I can tell, only one person in the last revival was fully Jewish. The crew being completely non-Jewish is where I see more of the problem. I don't think that means a non-Jewish person could never direct this show, but this production not really being seen by anyone apart of the Jewish community could lead to some insensitive decisions being made, possibly. Just like when any majority takes something meant for the minority, it can be easy for things to be lost in translation and for caricatures to be made. Still if Lapine and Finn do not have an issue with this production, then I don't see any issue with it either.

Updated On: 8/25/19 at 02:43 AM
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#9
Posted: 8/25/19 at 3:43am

Well, Finn did choose to open the show with "Four Jews in a Room Bitching", so who, exactly, is trading in negative Jewish stereotypes? (For the record, I love the opening and the show is my second favorite of all time, after FOLLIES. And, yes, I am a white, anglo-gaelic, Protestant as far back as we have records (16th century)).

Judaism cannot fairly be compared to Christian denominations for historical reasons, no more than white can be compared to black. But I really don't think "Jewface" has been a thing since the 1800s in the US, unless one counts Jews themselves doing Yiddish humor; I don't know for how long in England. The characters in FALSETTOS are rather highly assimilated, so the opportunities in the script for stereotyping are very limited, even considering the bar mitzvah in Act II.

 

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#10
Posted: 8/25/19 at 3:44am
I agree with most of the sentiments expressed by previous posters on this thread. However, it is important to emphasize that being Jewish is indeed more than just religious beliefs. It is a culture, and cultural appropriation - even when well intended - can be problematic.

It’s a fine line. I think that there should ideally be at least SOME people who are members of the culture being portrayed in the cast, and if not the director, then some sort of associate. It depends on the show, but four gentiles singing “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” does seem cring-worthy.
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#11
Posted: 8/25/19 at 10:17am

dramamama611 said: "I agree with most of what you say here, however, the question I have is this: ARE Jews as equally involved with the arts in Europe /the UK as we are here? (I dont know)
I've always thought anti-semitism was much greater there as well. So, perhaps, its not fair for us to judge.
"

 

That's an interesting point that I hadn't really considered. During my travels around Europe, I often sought out synagogues and Jewish neighborhoods, and one thing that I learned is that many of these synagogues are under-attended, because Jewish populations remain small due to the residual effects of the Holocaust. I don't know if the same is true of London, or of the arts in London specifically, but I wouldn't be surprised. But again, that wouldn't necessarily be an issue of systemic exclusion from the arts, so much as a side-effect of a low population. But I may be wrong. I guess the question is: are the Jewish actors in London finding it difficult to get roles? I would guess not, but maybe I'm underestimating the latent anti-semitism in the UK. 

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#12
Posted: 8/25/19 at 12:14pm

Not going to wade into controversy, but I'll say this:

If non-Jewish actors shouldn't play Jewish characters, will someone please ask Nathan Lane to relinquish his Tony statues for The Producers and Angels in America and his nomination certificate for Guys & Dolls?

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#13
Posted: 8/25/19 at 12:43pm

Nvm

If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
Updated On: 8/25/19 at 12:43 PM
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#14
Posted: 8/25/19 at 1:10pm

I'm a quarter Jewish, which I say for the sake of full disclosure, not to insinuate that I have any concrete authority based on my heritage.

The difference between Falsettos and the aforementioned Angels and Producers is that Falsettos is a play about Judaism, and the latter two are plays about characters that happen to be Jewish. The fact that they are Jewish is important to the stories (especially in Angels), but Falsettos is (I think) about the concept of mitzvah, the Jewish command from God to lead a good and moral life. In the play, Marvin challenges that when he places his need to be who he really is over his responsibility to his family.

I think non-Jewish actors can play Jewish characters in Angels and Producers and still play them truthfully and respectfully, but I think it would be much harder to play one of the characters in Falsettos when you haven't lived with the religious and cultural implications of Judaism that are so important in the play.

Basically, I don't think the casting of Falsettos is problematic in and of itself, but I think it doesn't allow the show to be as truthful as it should be.

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#15
Posted: 8/25/19 at 1:36pm

It reminds me of the argument Harvey Fierstein had with the other creators of La Cage over casting a straight actor, George Hearn, as Albin because, whatever the actor's talents, he hasn't had the experience of a life of oppression and the anger built up as a result. Hearn won the Tony for his portrayal, but when later a gay actor took over the role, the other creators acknowledged Fierstein was right--it did play more authentically because of the lived experience. 

It would be silly to make actors check boxes as to whether they are the nationality/sexuality/religious upbringing of the characters they play, but someone with the experience of the character can create a richer experience. I can't really blame the actors who signed the petition--it's easy not to care when the issue doesn't effect you and dismiss what upsets others because you are unfazed, and I don't want to fall into that--but I think you cast who gives the best audition, not a checklist of how the role they play coincides with their off-stage life.

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#16
Posted: 8/25/19 at 3:07pm
I see this issue as the flip side to the minor brouhaha that erupted when it was once rumored that Barbra Streisand was interested in playing Evita in the movie version of the musical. So not right, was the predominant opinion. So wrong. Laughable. Not authentic.

Something to think about: If non-Jewish actors get to play Members of the Tribe, then Jewish actors should be afforded the same opportunities to portray gentiles of most any ethnicity without eliciting eye-rolling or derision.

As to contemporary London, anyone keeping up with the news should realize that yes, antisemitism abounds, largely owing to Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party. But that’s a matter for a different forum.
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#17
Posted: 8/25/19 at 3:09pm

joevitus said: "It reminds me of the argument Harvey Fierstein had with the other creators of LaCage over casting a straight actor, George Hearn, as Albin because, whatever the actor's talents, he hasn't had the experience of a life of oppression and the anger built up as a result. Hearn won the Tony for his portrayal, but when later a gay actor took over the role, the other creators acknowledged Fierstein was right--it did play more authentically because of the lived experience.

It would be silly to make actors check boxes as to whether they are the nationality/sexuality/religious upbringing of the characters they play, but someone with the experience of the character can create a richer experience. I can't really blame the actors who signed the petition--it's easy not to care when the issue doesn't effect you and dismiss what upsets others because you are unfazed, and I don't want to fall into that--but I think you cast who gives the best audition, not a checklist of how the role they play coincides withtheir off-stage life.
"

I didn't know that. This reminds me of casting a straight actor to play one of the leads at the up and coming Broadway play The Inheritance. As a gay man in my 30s, I wished the creatives had cast an openly gay actor to play the lead role of Eric Glass since I think he'd provide a richer experience especially given the themes of the play. 

But back to the topic, I agree with you that whoever gave the best audition should get the role. 

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#18
Posted: 8/25/19 at 3:24pm
Antisemitism barely exists in London and of course criticism of the decisions made by governments is not ‘anti-semitism’. Could you imagine if people started claiming criticism of the Trump administration as ‘racist’ against Americans? But of course it’s 2019 so if we aren’t feeling oppressed or attacked by someone then something is wrong. Trust me, no one really cares or is thinking hard about whether someone is Jewish or not. They just want to have a good time at the theatre with skilled actors.
"It’s the fractured quality in [Bernadette Peters'] singing voice and line readings that puts across the character as someone for whom resentment is sliding into madness." - NYtimes on Follies (2011).
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#19
Posted: 8/25/19 at 6:05pm
As a Jewish theatergoer, I’m surprised no-one’s brought up Alfred Molina’s woeful miscasting as Tevye in the revival of Fiddler from the early aughts. His innate goyishness combined with the director’s own resulted in a FIDDLER that seemed for all the world like a Chekhov play about generic Russian peasants. Any production of Falsettos would do well to heed that cautionary tale.
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#20
Posted: 8/25/19 at 6:37pm
What ever happened to acting? You know, where people are hired to portray people who are not themselves? Are we really to the point where we have to hire Catholics to portray Catholics, and Jews as Jews. Are we really going so far as to insist that actors' religious beliefs have to match the characters that play? Furthermore, how would a casting director know? I don't make a habit of discussing my religious beliefs with anyone, least of all when trying to get a job.

Does this mean that Jewish people can no longer portray people of other religions? At a certain point, you need to be careful about what you ask for, because once a precedent is set, it's hard to go back.

I understand the need to cast a specific race when the script specifically calls for it, and that is because it is something the audience can physically see; otherwise, I am in favor of complete colorblind casting on stage.

This feels like it is beginning to get a bit out of hand.
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#21
Posted: 8/25/19 at 6:47pm

jimmycurry01 said: "What ever happened to acting? You know, where people are hired to portray people who are not themselves? Are we really to the point where we have to hire Catholics to portray Catholics, and Jews as Jews. Are we really going so far as to insist that actors' religious beliefs have to match the characters that play? Furthermore, how would a casting director know? I don't make a habit of discussing my religious beliefs with anyone, least of all when trying to get a job.

Does this mean that Jewish people can no longer portray people of other religions? At a certain point, you need to be careful about what you ask for, because once a precedent is set, it's hard to go back.

I understand the need to cast a specific race when the script specifically calls for it, and that is because it is something the audience can physically see; otherwise, I am in favor of complete colorblind casting on stage.

This feels like it is beginning to get a bit out of hand.
"

 

I get the sense you haven’t read the other posts in this thread...

 

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#22
Posted: 8/25/19 at 7:43pm

qolbinau said: "Antisemitism barely exists in London"

Actually, the UK has a long history of Antisemitism with the Jewish populations being blamed for things like plagues as well as Jack the Ripper. 

When I saw Caroline, or Change I heard some English ladies discussing how they didn't understand something in the plot and used phrases like "those greedy Jew parents! Only caring about money! Just like them!" Granted, this was an isolated experience and I am in zero way saying all/many/most people of the UK think this way, but it's a problem same as it is all over the world.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/17/uk/uk-anti-semitism-intl/index.html

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#23
Posted: 8/25/19 at 7:54pm

Someone in a Tree2 said: "As a Jewish theatergoer, I’m surprised no-one’s brought up Alfred Molina’s woeful miscasting as Tevye in the revival of Fiddler from the early aughts. His innate goyishness combined with the director’s own resulted in a FIDDLER that seemed for all the world like a Chekhov play about generic Russian peasants. Any production of Falsettos would do well to heed that cautionary tale."

Interestingly enough, Fierstein (who later played Tevye in that production) liked both that version of the show and, I believe, Molina's performance. He talks about why he liked that production on an episode of Theater Talk (recorded after he'd joined the show).

Updated On: 8/26/19 at 07:54 PM
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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#24
Posted: 8/25/19 at 7:55pm

mamaleh said: "I see this issue as the flip side to the minor brouhaha that erupted when it was once rumored that Barbra Streisand was interested in playing Evita in the movie version of the musical. So not right, was the predominant opinion. So wrong. Laughable. Not authentic.

Something to think about: If non-Jewish actors get to play Members of the Tribe, then Jewish actors should be afforded the same opportunities to portray gentiles of most any ethnicity without eliciting eye-rolling or derision.

As to contemporary London, anyone keeping up with the news should realize that yes, antisemitism abounds, largely owing to Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party. But that’s a matter for a different forum.
"

There's a Striesand recording of "My Favorite Things" that makes me yearn for her to be cast in a revival of The Sound of Music. We need a Yiddish Maria!

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Falsettos in London premiere controversy#25
Posted: 8/25/19 at 7:56pm

Wick3 said: "joevitus said: "It reminds me of the argument Harvey Fierstein had with the other creators of LaCage over casting a straight actor, George Hearn, as Albin because, whatever the actor's talents, he hasn't had the experience of a life of oppression and the anger built up as a result. Hearn won the Tony for his portrayal, but when later a gay actor took over the role, the other creators acknowledged Fierstein was right--it did play more authentically because of the lived experience.

It would be silly to make actors check boxes as to whether they are the nationality/sexuality/religious upbringing of the characters they play, but someone with the experience of the character can create a richer experience. I can't really blame the actors who signed the petition--it's easy not to care when the issue doesn't effect you and dismiss what upsets others because you are unfazed, and I don't want to fall into that--but I think you cast who gives the best audition, not a checklist of how the role they play coincides withtheir off-stage life.
"

I didn't know that. This reminds me of casting a straight actor to play one of the leads at the up and coming Broadway play The Inheritance. As a gay man in my 30s, I wished the creatives hadcast an openly gay actor to play the lead role of Eric Glass since I think he'd provide a richer experience especially given thethemes of the play.

But back to the topic, I agree with you that whoever gave the best audition should get the role.
"

Thank you, I really appreciate that!