LONDON — "Miss Saigon" star Jonathan Pryce gave his final performance at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane here Saturday amid tributes, onstage antics and an uncertain future.
"I don't know whether I'll ever play this role again after tonight," he said backstage, just before his final London appearance as a Eurasian pimp called the Engineer. "My mind is still split."
Pryce said he would spend the weekend contemplating whether he wanted to appear in a New York production of the smash musical. The performers' union Actors' Equity, which had attempted to ban the Welshman from the Broadway company on grounds that his role should go to an Asian actor, reversed its decision Thursday.
But Pryce remains embittered. "I didn't appreciate the way Equity addressed the situation," he said, complaining that the organization had "failed to address" the racial issue at the core of the controversy.
Equity made it appear that it only reversed its earlier decision because of the legal technicality that prohibits it from placing restrictions on actors deemed "stars," he said.
Their message was, said Pryce, " 'We'll let you in, but you're still a racist--a star racist.' "
While supporting the efforts of minority actors to get work, he feels strongly that there is nothing inappropriate about his playing a half-French, half-Vietnamese character.
"Miss Saigon" producer Cameron Mackintosh, who dropped plans to bring the show to New York after Equity banned Pryce, has not said what action he will take as a result of the union's revised position. It is not known whether he would proceed with a Broadway production if Pryce declined to appear in it. An announcement is expected this week, possibly as early as today.
Pryce, who is about to leave London for a family vacation, turned down "a number of film offers" in expectation that he would appear on Broadway in March. "I had to put them all to one side."
He may still appear with Dustin Hoffman in the film version of E. L. Doctorow's novel "Billy Bathgate." But Pryce has kept the film's producers waiting so long for a response, he noted, that everything "is on the edge."
The international controversy over Pryce and "Miss Saigon" made the actor's last day in the London company seem that much more emotional.
One of the hottest tickets in town became even hotter, as scores and scores of hopefuls lined up at the theater with dreams of seeing the matinee or the final evening performance.
Ticket touts boosted their prices in classic supply-and-demand style. One scalper, who was working the crowd at the front entrance, said he was getting 200 ($380) for good seats.
Some tourists waiting for the chance to buy returned tickets did not realize the significance of the occasion.
"I had no idea," said a surprised American woman, who declined to reveal her name. "We just happened to be here."
"This was just my only night in London," said Caroline Niemi, of Calgary, Canada. "We heard the show was good and decided to try to get tickets." Niemi and her traveling companions learned about the star's departure when they went to a ticket agency on Oxford Street and discovered the wildly inflated prices.
Most of the crowd seemed well aware that this was a special night.
"We had to make it," said Andy Kythreotis, who was about to see his 79th performance of the musical. With him was Jeff Sussex, who was seeing the show for the 82nd time.
"As far as we're concerned, the show will never be the same without Jonathan Pryce," said Kythreotis. "He's Broadway's gain if they get him."
"His work rubs off on the rest of the cast," Sussex added. "When he's doing well it lifts the whole show."
Nick Holder, Pryce's principal understudy, will play the Engineer for the next two weeks. Starting Sept. 3, Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Hilton McRae will take over the role.
Although Pryce has achieved international acclaim for his performance in "Miss Saigon," his casting as the crafty pimp was considered chancy when the show debuted in September, 1989. A renowned Shakespearean actor, Pryce had not appeared in a musical before.
Saturday, it seemed like a wise move.
At the 3 p.m. matinee, the "Miss Saigon" company had a couple of farewell surprises in store for Pryce. During a scene that takes place in Bangkok's red-light district, a cage containing a go-go dancer in a bikini is wheeled out. This time, when the cage was brought onstage, Pryce turned to find someone inside dressed as a gorilla.
The company pulled off a very inside joke near the end of the matinee when Pryce crawled onto the hood of a classic convertible while singing about his vision of "The American Dream." Inside the car, where a blond beauty queen normally appears, was Pryce's dresser.
At the final show, there were no jokes, just a powerful performance. The fact that it was Pryce's last night was never mentioned. It didn't have to be.
In the end, during bows, the star received a standing ovation from the audience and a bouquet from one of the actresses. An actor wearing a U.S. Army uniform gave Pryce a bottle of champagne and a kiss.