By Michael Riedel
New York Post
February 4, 1999
NINE years ago B.D. Wong led the fight against the
casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian pimp in
He, along with Actors Equity, argued that it was
"racially false" to allow an Asian role to be played by a
But now the shoe is on the other foot. In the revival of
"Charlie Brown," opening tonight at the Ambassador
Theater, Wong plays Linus, who, in the famed Charles
Schulz comic strip, is, of course, a little white boy.
Yet nobody's kicking up a fuss about it. If it's racially
false to put a white actor in an Asian role, isn't racially
false to do the reverse?
"You mean sort of reverse discrimination," says Wong.
"I don't think so. With 'Miss Saigon' we wanted to
make the point that Asians were under-represented on
Broadway. But I don't think I'm taking a job away
from a white actor.
"Besides, I think I'm more like Linus than most white
people. I really fit the part."
The battle over non-traditional casting is pretty much
over, with game set and match going to the
These days, revivals of classic musicals often feature
minority actors playing roles originally written for
"Carousel" had a black Mrs. Snow, "On the Town" a
Japanese MP (guarding the Brooklyn Naval Yard no
less!), "Annie Get Your Gun" a black sheriff and
"Charlie Brown" a black Schroeder.
And there are more Asians working on Broadway
than ever before. Indeed, every actor who has
followed Jonathan Pryce into "Miss Saigon" has been
"It's clearly much better than it was," says Wong.
In some ways, it may have even gone too far.
Wong, a fourth generation Asian-American from San
Fransisco, declines to discuss his specific Asian
heritage. The reason, he says, is that casting directors
are now so sensitive to the issue that they don't want
to put a Chinese actor in a Japanese role or give a
Korean the part of a Vietnemese.
"It's a politically correct, new-fangled thing," he says,
"Charlie Brown" marks Wong's return to Broadway
since he played a transvestite in the 1988 play "M.
He won a Tony for his performance but for years was
stereotyped, he says, as an Asian actor who could
only play "these flamboyant, eccentric, theatrical
characters." It took about six years for people to
figure out that I wasn't the character they saw in 'M.
Since then, the actor has given memorable turns both
in the movies and on television.
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