Lightning-rod musical ‘Miss Saigon’ upsetting Asian American community

Courtesy of the Ordway
“Miss Saigon” is a lightning rod for several reasons: The show is accused of promoting and exploiting Asian stereotypes, and the Asian characters are often portrayed by white actors.

The musical “Miss Saigon” is coming to the Ordway in October, and our APIA community (Asian Pacific Islander American) is not amused. Twenty-two years ago, Asian Americans protested “Miss Saigon” when the Ordway presented it at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. Set in the Vietnam era, based on Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly,” “Miss Saigon” is a lightning rod for several reasons: The show is accused of promoting and exploiting Asian stereotypes, and the Asian characters are often portrayed by white actors. Most famously (or infamously), Cameron Mackintosh cast Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer in the original Broadway production.

Since learning of the musical’s imminent return, Mu Performing Arts has been hosting a series of conversations about it — less about the casting, more about the frustration from the APIA community that the show continues to be presented in Minnesota at all. The first two conversations were for theater professionals.

The third, scheduled for Monday, Sept. 9, at 6:30 p.m. in the UBS Forum at MPR headquarters (480 Cedar St., St. Paul), is open to the public. It will spell out the precise reasons why “Miss Saigon” is so offensive, explore how productions of this kind affect the APIA community and society at large, and give everyone a chance to share their points of view on ways to handle situations of this kind. Update: Seating is limited and reservations are required to

According to a statement from Mu, “Minnesota’s Asian American community has grown significantly” since the time of the first protests, and “the issues it faces have matured in complexity.” Randy Reyes, Mu’s artistic director, will facilitate. Note that the current version of “Miss Saigon” is not just a touring show being hosted by the Ordway; it’s an Ordway co-production.

Despite their dwindling ranks, the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will play a free concert at the Lake Harriet Bandshell on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 5 p.m. Principal trumpet Manny Laureano will conduct Weber’s overture to “Der Freischütz” and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

The numbers for this year’s Fringe are in, and it’s fair to call it a smashing success. Preliminary counts show 49,991 tickets issued (up from 46,284 in 2012) and 16,493 individual attendees (based on distribution of the Fringe button required for admission. BTW, if you bought a Fringe button, hold onto it. It’s good all year for savings on other events. We did not know that last year, when we tossed ours in the recycling.)

The 2013 festival included 896 performances, with an average audience size of 56 people. The festival presented the work of more than 1,100 actors, directors, playwrights, dancers, designers and other artists. 

The top 5 shows by capacity percentage: “These Old Shoes” (Translatlantic Love Affair), “How to Swear Like a Minnesotan” (Joking Envelope), “They Called Her Captain” (Less Traveled Productions), “Stuck in an Elevator with Patrick Stewart” (The Theatre Cosmic), and “ Midsummer Night’s Gotham” (The Gentipede).

The top 5 by total attendance: “These Old Shoes,” “Shelley Bachberg Presents: How Anne Frank and Helen Keller Freed the Slaves” (Jansonowicz Players), “Hickory Minimum Security Correctional Facility Presents; Hoosiers” (Ferrari McSpeedy) and “Four Humors’ Lolita; A Three Man Show” (Fat Bottom Jones Productions). We saw two of those 10. Dumb luck, or do we know how to pick them? (Truth: dumb luck.) Departing executive director Robin Gillette said in a statement, “I’m absolutely thrilled … I couldn’t ask for a better way to close out my time at the festival.” Robin, you will be missed.

Maybe you saw the article in the Sunday (Aug. 4) New York Times on CSA (Community Supported Art)? The popular program – through which art lovers buy annual “shares” and get brand-new art from local artists – was started here in Minnesota, we’re happy to say, by Springboard for the Arts in partnership with Four years later, it has now spread to almost 40 cities nationwide, including Pittsburgh, Miami, Brooklyn, Lincoln (Neb.) and Fargo. A few shares remain of this year’s CSA; the final pick-up party will be held Thursday, Aug. 22, at the Union Depot in Lowertown.

Our picks for the week

Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 13) at Common Good Books: Paul Bogard discusses “The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.” If you gazed upward at the Perseids this weekend through a haze of city lights, you probably longed for more darkness. Bogard’s new book ranges across such topics as urban planning; our physical, mental, and spiritual need for darkness; and diseases linked to exposure to light at night (uh-oh, says this night owl). 7 p.m., 38 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul. Free.

Each year, legendary guitarist Eric Clapton hosts a star-studded music festival to benefit Crossroads Centre, the drug treatment and education facility he founded on Antigua.

Tonight at a multiplex near you: “Eric Clapton’s Crossroads 2013.” Each year, legendary guitarist Eric Clapton hosts a star-studded music festival to benefit Crossroads Centre, the drug treatment and education facility he founded on Antigua. This year’s was held at Madison Square Garden over two nights. The concert film features performances and behind-the-scenes footage; performers include the Allman Brothers Band, Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks, Clapton, Jeff Beck, John Mayer, Keith Urban and Keith Richards. We saw last year’s version and it rocked. Go here and enter your ZIP code to find your closest theater and buy tickets. (In Minneapolis, it’s the Showplace Icon; in St. Paul, the Oakdale. Both at 7:30 p.m.)

Wednesday at the Mendota VFW: A Free Evening of Jazz Music and History in Mendota. During the 1940s and ’50s, Mendota was the place to go for jazz. Many Twin Cities musicians still speak fondly of Mitch’s Roadhouse and the Emporium of Jazz, home of the Hall Brothers. Butch Thompson will serve as bandleader and storyteller for an evening presented by the Minnesota Historical Society. With Thompson on piano and clarinet, Charlie DeVore on trumpet and vocalist Lee Engele.  Doors at 6:30, concert at 7 p.m. 1323 Sibley Memorial Hwy, Mendota.

Wednesday at the Artists’ Quarter: Mountain King. A lot of things can and do happen in jazz, but this is a rarity: a bass trio. No drums, keys, or horns, just three big double basses. The bass is a stringed instrument, and it can be bowed as well as plucked (also slapped, snapped and knocked like a percussion instrument), so it’s capable of many sounds, melodies, and moods. Bassists Jeremy Boettcher, Brian Courage and Graydon Peterson will play new arrangements of lesser-known standards, original music, and some classics from the SuperBass songbook. (SuperBass was the late 1990s-early 2000s bass trio of Ray Brown, Christian McBride and John Clayton.) This is bound to be fun, but it will also be coherent music by three fine players. 9 p.m., 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul (in the basement of the Hamm Building). $5 at the door.

club scene
Courtesy of The Loft Literary Center
The Ultimate Master of Words: A literary rumble, a lively evening of wordplay, and an impressive line-up in the ring and at the judges’ table.

Thursday at the Loft: The Ultimate Master of Words. A literary rumble, a lively evening of wordplay, and an impressive line-up in the ring and at the judges’ table. Eight contenders will compete for bragging rights as a top wordsmith: Lisa Brimmer, Rob Callahan, Jacquie Fuller, Ed Bok Lee, Katie Sisneros, Faith Sullivan, Chaun Webster and Anna Weggel. Who will create the most outrageous fake definitions for bizarre-sounding words? The judges include writer and hip-hop artist Dessa, Minnesota Book Award winner Brian Malloy, and City Pages food writer (and 2012 Ultimate Master of Words champion) Emily Weiss. MPR’s Stephanie Curtis will emcee. Prize packs will be awarded to the winner, the runner-up and the audience member who writes the best tweet. Doors at 6:30, event at 7 p.m. Target Performance Hall, The Loft at Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis. Tickets here ($10/$5).

Thursday at the Minnesota Museum of American Art: Opening night for “The Studio Sessions: Minnesota Artists in the 1970s.” Wear your bellbottoms and platform shoes. The MMAA Project Space’s latest exhibition grew out of photographer Victor Bloomfield’s series documenting the Twin Cities art scene in the early 1970s. DJ Booka B will provide the music (funk, jazz, disco and soul, baby), and many of the artists in the exhibition will be present. Bloomfield will kick things off with an introduction. 7-8:30 p.m., 332 N. Robert St., St. Paul (the Pioneer Building at the corner of Fourth and Robert). Free. Exhibition runs through Oct. 20. FMI

Jonatha Brooke
Courtesy of the Playwrights’ Center
Jonatha Brooke

Thursday through Saturday at the Playwrights’ Center: Acclaimed singer and songwriter Jonatha Brooke  presents her one-woman musical play “My Mother Has Four Noses.” Brooke’s mother, Nancy Nelson — a published poet, a Christian Scientist, and a clown — struggled with Alzheimer’s at the end of her life. The play is drawn from Nelson’s songs, poems and stories and their shared experiences  — like the time Nelson asked Brooke, “How many people do you know who can say they have FOUR noses? Are you getting this down? We should make a PLAY out of it!” 7 p.m. all nights. Free, but reservations are highly recommended. On Wednesday, Aug. 14, from 6 to 8 p.m., Brooke will offer a master class on songwriting and composing, also at the Playwrights’ Center. The cost is $25. To register, call 612-332-7481. Here’s Jon Bream’s interview with Brooke.

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