Miss Saigon ticketholders express surprise, desire to learn over controversy

The upcoming production of “Miss Saigon” at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts has been surrounded by controversy in recent weeks. But some ticketholders to the show say they’re not sure what the uproar is all about.

To learn more, about 50 ticketholders and concerned citizens attended an event last night hosted by the Ordway.

Very few critics of the show attended the event. They were invited, but several said they weren’t interested in “doing the Ordway’s educational work for them.”

Many of the people in attendance said they had been surprised to learn that there was a controversy surrounding the show, and that they were at the meeting to learn more. Some will be seeing the show for the first time this fall; others have seen the show multiple times.

Ordway Vice President and Producing Artistic Director James Rocco explained the general outline of the show, and said that some people were upset by how it depicts Asian women and men, as well as how it presents human trafficking.

Several people expressed the opinion that controversy in art can lead to good things, including raised awareness.

Others questioned whether some stories aren’t suited to musicals.

University of Minnesota graduate student Evan Stewart said he enjoys seeing art that shocks or challenges him, but also recognizes his own responsibility as a consumer. He said before buying a ticket to a show he determines who benefits from his patronage.

“I don’t think my desire to see a show trumps a community saying ‘we’re hurt by this production,’ ” Stewart said.

Those in attendance included Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese immigrants. During the course of the conversation, some suggested the Ordway should do more to help present alternative stories by Asian Americans — stories that don’t perpetuate common stereotypes.

“I’d like us to be able to do more stories, but it’s harder and harder to get musicals on — they’re very expensive,” explained Rocco. “And when you’re talking about Broadway, you’re really talking about business.”

Ordway staff members warned that those who have tickets to the show should be prepared for picketers and protesting when they arrive.

Approximately 6,000 tickets have been sold for Miss Saigon’s run at the Ordway.

“It’s challenging to reach everyone,” said Shelley Quiala, the Ordway’s director of education. “Only the people who are interested in learning more are going to show up.”

Quiala said that, in addition to the community conversation, educational essays and reading lists are being put online and in the show program.