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La Jolla Playhouse gets heat from Asian Americans over casting

Broadway TheaterMusical TheaterTheaterLiteratureMusic

The La Jolla Playhouse has been receiving a barrage of negative criticism from members of the Asian American community over its casting choices for the new musical "The Nightingale," featuring songs by the "Spring Awakening" team of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater.

"The Nightingale" is adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story and is set in ancient China. The workshop staging for the La Jolla Playhouse, which began performances earlier this month, features a mostly non-Asian cast, with the lead role of a Chinese monarch played by a white actor.

The theater company has received a number of highly critical messages from Asian Americans on its Facebook page questioning the casting choices of the musical. "How could you stage 'The Nightingale,' a show set in ancient China, with a cast that is almost completely non-Asian?" wrote one commenter on the company's page.

Another commenter posted: "Would you cast non African American people in the roles of 'The Color Purple' or an August Wilson play or 'Topdog/Underdog'???"

In response to the criticism, the company has scheduled a free talk-back session on Sunday afternoon following the matinee performance of "The Nightingale."

The Playhouse has defended the casting for "The Nightingale," saying that it wanted to create a multi-ethnic ensemble. The cast features actors of different ethnicities, including African American and Asian performers. 

Christopher Ashley, the artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse, wrote on the company's Facebook page that it was "our intention from the onset to create a multicultural cast in a reinterpretation of this Hans Christian Andersen classic fable, blending East and West, past and present."

"The Nightingale" features music by Sheik, and a book and lyrics by Sater. The pair worked together on the hit Tony Award-winning musical "Spring Awakening." The La Jolla production of "The Nightingale" is directed by Moises Kaufman.

The musical is being presented by the company's Page to Stage program -- a developmental workshop series in which new works are tested out in front of paying audiences.

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