Ali Ewoldt takes stage as first Asian-American female lead in Broadway’s ‘Phantom’

NBC News:

Broadway‘s “The Phantom of the Opera” will get its first Asian-American Christine when its new principle cast takes stage on June 13.

Ali Ewoldt, whose mother is from the Philippines, will play the female lead in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Ewoldt previously starred in Broadway’s “Les Miserables,” and in national tours of “The King And I” and “West Side Story.”

Phantom,” the longest-running musical on Broadway, will also see its first African-American Raoul: actor Jordan Donica, who will also begin performing on the 13.

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Playbill: Casting and advertisement of Yellowface play “The Mikado” stirs controversy amongst Asian community in NYC

 Playbill (by Michael Gioia):

When a flyer advertising The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players‘ December production of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s The Mikado — featuring four Caucasian actors portraying Japanese characters in the classic Gilbert and Sullivan opera — was sent out to theatergoers, members of the Asian community took offense.

Playwright and blogger Leah Nanako Winkler was among the first to speak up, posting (from memory, not directly quoting) her conversation with NYGASP artistic director Albert Bergeret, in which he explained that out of the approximately 40 members of the company, only two actors are of Asian descent.

Erin Quill, a former Christmas Eve in Broadway’s Avenue Q who bills herself as “The Fairy Princess” on her Fairy Princess Diaries blog, also responded to the planned production, stating that when she saw the NYGASP’s last production of The Mikado, it was not “historically accurate” in its presentation and that Gilbert “wanted the representation of Japanese people to be respectful and elegant.”

Instead, Quill said that artistic director Bergeret added a character called The Axe Coolie (“coolie” is a term used to refer to Chinese workers at one time in America, yet the show is set in Japan), a small female child who ran around the stage dressed as a male Asian shouting “High Ya.”

She told Playbill.com that while some actors in that production were “just in a costume and doing their track, others were taking special delight and making a large effort to use stereotypical behavior. There was pulling of the eyes, there was shuffling of feet, there were exaggerated gestures in many regards, but when one cast member both pulled his eyes and gnashed his teeth — it was clear that this production had nothing to do with Gilbert and Sullivan any longer, it was an excuse to indulge in caricature that was degrading and hurtful.”

She concluded that the company “played The Mikado for cheap laughs at the expense of Japanese Heritage.”

Since both posts began circulating the Internet, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players pulled the season brochure post on their page and issued statements explaining that they have taken in the “constructive criticism” and are meeting on how to proceed with the production.

David Wannen, the executive director of NYGASP, explained to Playbill.com via phone that the actress on the cover of the brochure (who has asked to remain nameless) is of Asian descent and that the Caucasian actors inside the brochure are not “manipulating” their facial features to appear Asian (therefore, they are technically not painted in Yellowface, a form of theatrical makeup used to represent an East Asian person).

According to the company’s casting policy, “Qualified singers of all ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities are encouraged to audition in all appropriate categories. There are no ethnically specific roles in Gilbert & Sullivan.”

While the company has held various auditions over the last five years, they said it would be “hard” to get a “demographic percentage of how many actors of Asian descent audition, and of those how many are cast.” Regardless of race or culture, the company casts “based on merit alone, and how that merit fits into the needs of a repertory company.”

In a statement issued to Playbill.com, NYGASP explained, “The original plans for the production have been worked on by an independent committee of the board who scanned The Mikado for offensive material and practice. It was determined that the practice of Yellowface makeup — using make up to appear Asian — was the most offensive practice brought to light by the Asian-American community. As part of a policy that is generally outlined by the statement on the website, we agreed to instruct the cast to avoid this practice specifically. Makeup that was appropriate for the stage without the manipulation of features or complexion. We also agreed to go ahead with the wigs and costumes of our traditional production. Obviously, from the reaction to images on our promotional material, this distinction was not able to be seen and was not satisfying to this community.

We are listening to the response we have received. The Executive Committee of the Board is meeting to discuss a strategy and policy going forward. We have taken this issue extremely seriously since the outcry last summer (2014) and remain committed to doing so.”

On the company’s Tumblr page, they addressed the community’s concerns, stating, “We have attempted to keep the satire in our production of The Mikado as true to the original intent as possible; that is, using the fictional Japanese town of Titipu as the setting for satirizing the very real people of Victorian England.”

They added that, in terms of casting for the company’s repertory nature, “There is no separate casting for parts in specific plays. NYGASP cast members are G&S specialists who must be able to play Japanese villagers in The Mikado one day, British sailors in H.M.S. Pinafore the next day and Venetians in The Gondoliers the day after that. The music, the libretti, the stage direction, the singers’ interpretations, the sets, the costumes and the staging must all combine to create the belief that each actor indeed becomes multiple different characters across the spectrum of Gilbert and Sullivan’s imaginative works.

“NYGASP exists to nurture the living legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan – not to preserve the past unthinkingly, but to show how much G&S can still teach us about the foibles of human nature that are both geographically universal and timeless. We believe passionately that these enduringly entertaining works of 19th Century England – of which The Mikado is the best known – continue to speak to every generation that watches and listens with an open heart.”

By email, Quill added, “No Asian American disputes that The Mikado is a staple of the G&S canon, nor that the music is lovely. The Mikado, in mocking British mores of the time, says many things about being an individual, about standing up against petty tyrannies, that love will find a way no matter what age you are, and that ultimately if you speak your truth to power, reason will prevail. (Yes, there are large amounts of ‘poo’ references in the names of characters and the town itself. At the time, it was funny, now it is a bit of a ‘groaner.’)

However, the execution of any production that allows exaggerated makeup, inaccurate costuming, and mockery of Asian people is not, in this day and age with Hamilton, Allegiance and School of Rock, acceptable. When you view the current Lincoln Center Theater performances of The King and I, and see how beautifully APIs [Asian-Pacific Islanders] can inhabit a show that is, yes, a standard of the MT [musical theatre] canon, then you can see the authenticity of a pan Asian representation and what it brings to a production.

“We, the Asian Americans, do not want to ‘take away’ your precious Mikado – we want you to do better. We want you to stop constantly mocking us and telling us by your actions and deeds that Yellowface remains part of your theatrical lexicon. We want you to make any production of it, smarter, less full of stereotypes – more full of the respect G&S were trying for.”

Wannen said, “I really believe that the issue is a larger issue, obviously, than who is Asian and who isn’t. We’re dealing with this on a global level and listening to this outcry.”

– See more at: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/casting-and-advertisement-for-the-mikado-in-nyc-stirs-controversy-amongst-asian-community-362609#sthash.40bZcHo4.dpuf

Miss Saigon’s Kwang-Ho Hong performs title song from Frank Wildhorn’s Broadway musical adaptation of DEATH NOTE manga series

Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, Bonnie & Clyde) is currently working on turning Japanese manga series DEATH NOTE into a musical. Below, check out a Korean music video featuring the title song from the musical, performed by Kwang-Ho Hong (Miss Saigon UK, Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll & Hyde, Don Quixote)!

George Takei to star in Broadway musical about interned Japanese-Americans

NY Times: 

Allegiance,” a musical about Japanese-Americans in United States internment camps during World War II, will begin performances on Broadway in October at a Shubert Theater to be announced later, the show’s producers said Thursday. The musical, which will cost a relatively hefty $13 million to mount, will star George Takei, who is best known as Mr. Sulu in the original “Star Trek” television series, and whose personal experiences in internment camps in Arkansas and California inspired “Allegiance.”

Mr. Takei, in a telephone interview, described the show as “very, very personal” and a tribute to his parents as well as the tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry – the majority of whom were American citizens – who were forcibly relocated to camps from 1942 to 1946 under an order by President Roosevelt. Mr. Takei said that he had invested a “substantial” amount of his own money in the musical, and that it features characters drawn from his family and life, including a grandfather character that Mr. Takei will portray in his Broadway debut.

I consider this my legacy project,” said Mr. Takei, who is 77 and spent about four years of his childhood in two camps. “This is the first time that this dark chapter of American history will be done on the Broadway stage.”

Mindful that theatergoers often skip Broadway musicals that are tagged (however unfairly) as ruminations on history, like “The Scottsboro Boys” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” Mr. Takei highlighted the romantic subplots and centrality of baseball in “Allegiance,” as well as the overarching theme of family unity.

The show’s backdrop is the imprisonment of innocent Americans simply because we looked like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor, but the story is universal – people falling in love, getting married, having a family,” Mr. Takei said. “The musical will find an audience because whether you are white, black, Latino, young or old, people can identify with the idea of family and the stresses put on a family, which in this case were enormous.”

Allegiance” had its world premiere in 2012 at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, receiving mixed reviews but drawing large and ethnically diverse audiences. Since then, Mr. Takei said, some scenes and dialogue have been tweaked but the show is essentially the same. The Old Globe cast included the Tony Award winner Lea Salonga (“Miss Saigon”) and Telly Leung (the 2011 Broadway revival of “Godspell”). Mr. Takei said Ms. Salonga and Mr. Leung were in negotiations to do “Allegiance” on Broadway but no casting beyond his was confirmed at this point.

The musical’s producers, Lorenzo Thione and Andrew Treagus, have been waiting for an available Broadway theater for about two years, but other shows – some more evidently commercial than “Allegiance,” and some flops – landed them first. “Allegiance” will arrive during a period of increasingly steady opportunities for Asian-American theater actors in New York: a Broadway revival of “The King & I” is set to open this spring, while the hit London revival of “Miss Saigon” looks likely to arrive on Broadway at some point, though probably not before the 2016-17 theater season.

Allegiance,” which has a book by Marc Acito and music and lyrics by Jay Kuo, will be directed by Stafford Arima (Off Broadway’s “Carrie,” “Altar Boyz”). Preview performances are scheduled to begin Oct. 6, with an opening night of Nov. 8.

The musical grew out of a chance encounter several years ago that Mr. Takei and his husband, Brad, had with Mr. Thione and Mr. Kuo at back-to-back theater outings in New York, after which Mr. Takei shared his childhood memories of the camps over dinner.

We talked for a long time about my childhood imprisonment, about my father’s anguish at being challenged over his loyalty to America – my dad was born in San Francisco and played baseball, my mother was born in Sacramento,” Mr. Takei said. “I’m a weeper, and when Jay emailed me a song after that, about my father and the idea of allegiance, I just gushed. I knew I had to do this.”

Vanessa Hudgens to play Rizzo in FOX’s live broadcast musical ‘Grease’

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 Audrey Magazine:

It seems that the musical bug will not stop biting Vanessa Hudgens. Less than a week after her debut as Gigi at the Kennedy Center, Fox announced that Hudgens will be playing Rizzo, the loud-mouthed pink lady in a live musical broadcast of GreaseIn the original film, Rizzo was portrayed by actress Stockard Channing.

Fox is attempting to follow NBC’s footsteps by creating updated versions of classic musicals and broadcasting them on live television. NBC’s previous musical, Peter Pan, aired in December.

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Hudgens is simply “cranked” (that’s how you said “excited” in the 1950’s) on becoming a sassy pink lady.

Playing Rizzo is something I never imagined. I love that, because it will be a new challenge. I cannot wait to bring her to life on live television. I am going to be a pink lady!”

Hudgens will be starring alongside Julianne Hough, who will play goody-two-shoes Sandy. Fox has yet to announce the rest of the cast, but it is rumored that Hudgens’ ex-boyfriend and High School Musical co-star, Zac Efron, may play Danny Zucko. Perhaps that awkward situation may help Hudgens get into her bad-girl character?

Grease is expected to premiere on January 31, 2016.

 

The Stndrd: Profile on Galavant’s Karen David

Karen David by John P. Fleenor (1)

 

The STNDRD (by Adam C. Better):

Karen David is a captivating young beauty that seems capable of accomplishing anything artistically. David was raised in Canada and also spent some of her formative years in London. She knew at a very early age that she wanted to pursue a career in acting and music.

Her newest project is the ABC show, Galavant. “It’s Monty Python meets The Princess Bride. I feel so lucky to be part of something so special. It really has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” said David in regards to working on her new hit show.

David is also actively involved in the world of fashion and you can learn about that side of her at queenstrunk.com. You can keep up with Karen David’s career at karendavid.com.

Where are you from originally?

I’m a bit of a tossed salad—a mishmosh of Chinese, Khasi (a tribe from where I was born) and Indian. There is a bit of “Mazel Tov” in my surname for good measure. Culturally, I am Canadian and British. But, I was born near the foothills of the Himalayas in a place called Shillong.

How old were you when you knew what you wanted to do for a profession?

I remember the day so clearly—I was only 6 years old when my older sister and I watched Xanadu together. As soon as I saw the gorgeous Olivia-Newton John singing like an angel and acting on the screen…I was bitten hard. I knew right at that moment that I wanted to sing and act just like her. There was no looking back and my parents told me right then and there that I had to take the initiative and work really hard. They certainly had no connections in “the biz.” I love that my parents didn’t discourage me. Normally Asian, or South Asian, families want their children to be a doctor, or lawyer or an accountant. Mine said I should dream big, but back it up with a good work ethic.

What do you feel is your greatest strength as an artist?   

I’m all heart—which is a good thing—but it can make things tough too. I was told by one of my mentors that following your heart is the toughest choice to make. But, it is a much more rewarding path and a regret free zone. When I’m acting or singing, I do so with all my heart. Any fears or nerves I may have subside, because the heart is an honest and “real” place to speak from. There’s no hiding and I kind of like that. Throwing yourself in the deep end and trusting that you will land on your feet.

The fashion world is a big part of your life—can you talk a little bit about your love for fashion?

Growing up in London really taught me a lot about fashion. My wardrobe definitely evolved when I moved over to the UK. I love how everyone in Europe dresses according to their own individuality and their personalities. Fashion is an extension of who they are.

Do you feel more of a personal connection to music or acting?

I think because I started singing and acting at the same time—I feel connected to both. They balance me out creatively. I know being an actor makes me a better songwriter and writing new music inspires me. It takes your mind away from the working actor mentality of ‘what am I going to do in between roles?’ My main goal is to continue to be creative and inspired.

What kind of projects are you usually attracted to?

I love roles that are the complete opposite of myself—or characters with massive flaws. They are fascinating and challenging to play. Roles like that scare me at first and that’s when I know I’m going to love embarking on an adventure with that character.

Can you talk a little bit about the obstacles a minority woman faces in Hollywood?

I know there are challenges. I hear minority actors talk about it. But, I must admit, I have never personally experienced it during my own journey. I’m not saying that what those actors are talking about is wrong. It’s important to bring awareness to it. But, for myself, I never wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m a brown person or I’m a brown actor.’ I just see me. All the good and all the flaws. Just me, and that is what I want everyone else to see. I know my mixed heritage has allowed me to play all kinds of different roles. I have tested a couple of times for roles where originally they said they wanted a more ‘exotic’ looking actress. Then the girl who ends up getting the role is blonde and blue eyed. What can you do? That is something beyond my control. I just focus on being the best that I can be. Every actor has their own set of challenges, whatever ethnicity they are. It’s a tough business, but there is room for everyone who has talent.