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Producers respond to Jewish criticism of Falsettos casting

Falsettos was revived on Broadway in 2016 with several Jewish cast members, but the forthcoming London production lacks Jewish representation. Photo: Joan Marcus
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Producers of the forthcoming UK premiere of Falsettos have responded to criticism over the lack of Jewish representation in the musical’s cast, arguing it would have been inappropriate to ask performers about their religion during auditions.

Earlier this week, 23 Jewish theatremakers including actors Miriam Margolyes and Maureen Lipman, and director Adam Lenson signed an open letter highlighting the musical’s failure to hire any performers or members of the creative team who are Jewish, despite it being “an undeniably Jewish show”.

“At best, this demonstrates a startling lack of cultural sensitivity, and at worst, overt appropriation and erasure of a culture and religion increasingly facing a crisis,” the letter said.

It added: “Rehearsal rooms absent of living Jewish voices are in danger of viewing Judaism like a distant, historical, foreign element rather than a vibrant, contemporary and deeply relevant culture.”

Falsettos, created in 1992 by American writers William Finn and James Lapine – who are both Jewish – will run for the first time in the UK when it opens at the Other Palace in London next month.

The show’s producer Selladoor Worldwide has now responded to the letter’s claims, describing the practice of performers portraying characters of different religions, ethnicities and sexualities as “an extremely sensitive issue”.

Selladoor said in its statement that both Finn and Lapine had “direct input” in the production, including “the extensive casting process”.

“With regards to our cast, like all employers in the UK we are required to run recruitment processes that are free from bias or discrimination with regards to religion, race, gender, age or any other protected characteristics. We do not ask any of our prospective cast members about any of the aforementioned characteristics, and do not think that it would be appropriate to do so,” the statement said.

“The representation and respect of cultural heritage on stage is of the upmost importance and something we take very seriously. We have complete trust in our creative and production teams to ensure that this production properly represents all of the wonderful characters created by William Finn and James Lapine.”

The original letter acknowledges that because the show’s writers are Jewish, there is a level of representation in the musical. However, it argues that understanding and portrayals of Judaism are very different in New York and London, and claims that appropriating Jewishness with actors who are not Jewish amount to “Jewface”.

It said: “Jewface is a heightened and characteristic (mis)representation of Jews built on a secondary understanding of tropes, ticks, mannerisms and vocal affectation that has no awareness of the primary factors such as psychology, geography, culture and history that have framed these outward signifiers of Judaism… There is an obvious correlation between reduced representation in the creative process and increased misrepresentation in the product.”

Read the letter in full here:

Jewish theatremakers speak out against cultural appropriation on stage – your views, August 22

Selladoor’s response in full:

The question of performers portraying characters of different religions, ethnicities or sexualities is an extremely sensitive issue.  The representation and respect of cultural heritage on stage is of the upmost importance and something we take very seriously. We have complete trust in our creative and production teams to ensure that this production properly represents all of the wonderful characters created by William Finn and James Lapine.  
 
Bringing this seminal piece of musical theatre to UK audiences for the first time has been a seven-year undertaking for us. Throughout that process we have been mindful of all of the sensitive aspects of the subject material, be it the story of the central Jewish family or any of the other issues raised in this work such as homosexuality, AIDS, marriage, divorce & child custody. 
 
With regards to our cast, like all employers in the UK we are required to run recruitment processes that are free from bias or discrimination with regards to religion, race, gender, age or any other protected characteristics.  We do not ask any of our prospective cast members about any of the aforementioned characteristics, and do not think that it would be appropriate to do so.
 
Both William and James have had direct input in all aspects of the production, including the extensive casting process, and we could not be more proud of the unbelievably talented ensemble cast we have put together for the UK premiere of Falsettos. 

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