"Charlie Brown" and the Great Nonwhite Way

                            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
                            "Miss Saigon."

                            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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