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Lea Salonga Coming to Broadway : Theater: Producer wins arbitration ruling in casting London star of 'Miss Saigon' in the New York production.

January 08, 1991|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

London's "Miss Saigon" will also be Broadway's.

Lea Salonga, the Filipina actress who created the title role in the maxi-musical in England, will be allowed to repeat her performance when the show opens in New York on April 11, an arbitrator said Monday.

Actors' Equity had challenged Salonga's casting, citing contractual regulations that require producers to prove that foreign actors who are cast in leading roles of Broadway productions are "stars" or providers of "unique services." The union questioned Salonga's ability to meet those criteria.

The dispute went to arbitrator Daniel Collins, a law professor at New York University. In a statement issued to both sides Monday, Collins ruled that "Saigon" producer Cameron Mackintosh had demonstrated that Salonga provides "unique services."

That clause in the collective bargaining agreement between Equity and the League of American Theatres and Producers states that producers must document that foreign actors provide "unique services which cannot be performed by any current member of Equity," that "there is no citizen of the United States or resident alien domiciled in the U.S. capable of performing such services" and that "a diligent search has been made within the United States to find such an actor."

In a statement issued by Mackintosh and Equity in September, Equity acknowledged that Mackintosh had made "an extensive search" for candidates to play Salonga's role. At that time, only two of the eight candidates who were under consideration for the role were not American citizens, according to the mutual statement.

However, Mackintosh reserved the right to request permission to import Salonga "if none of the candidates proves to have the specific qualities necessary to originate this major role on Broadway." And under such circumstances, Equity agreed to "the hiring of no more than two non-American Asian actors to originate (Salonga's) role of Kim and the alternate on Broadway," stipulating a maximum employment period of 12 months, "plus a one-time option to extend for an additional six months, if necessary."

The fact that another actress will alternate the role with Salonga could be seen as contradicting the claim of her "uniqueness." In the September statement, Mackintosh noted "that the requirements of the role of Kim are so demanding that it will be necessary to cast two actors to perform on an alternating basis."

The identity of the alternate actress was not announced Monday, but a spokesman for Mackintosh said that he believed the final two candidates for the job are Asian-Americans. Mackintosh declined direct comment.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," said a spokeswoman for Equity, "but we will abide by the arbitrator's decision."

Tisa Chang, artistic producing director of the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York, was less circumspect, denouncing the decision as "a betrayal of the Asian-American talent in this country." She said she had seen Salonga in "Miss Saigon," and "I don't feel her skills are unique. There are a great many Asian-Americans who could do it."

The "Miss Saigon" scoreboard now reads Mackintosh 2, Equity 0. Last August, after Mackintosh threatened to cancel the New York production of the show, Equity reversed an earlier decision that would have prevented the Broadway casting of Salonga's London co-star, Jonathan Pryce.

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