The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire is facing controversy over the casting of its upcoming production of Evita, which was announced earlier this week.
Chicago actor Bear Bellinger, who has not been shy on social media about discussing issues of race in Chicago theater, published an open letter on Facebook this morning stating that he had seen the casting announcement for Evita and "was shocked to see that only one person of Latin heritage had been cast in it."
Bellinger's letter, which is addressed to Marriott leadership including executive producer Terry James, co-artistic directors Aaron Thielen and Andy Hite, associate producer Peter Blair and associate artistic director Peter Marston Sullivan, alleges that casting almost exclusively white actors in a show about Argentinean characters is part of "a line of racial issues I have been alerted to at your theatre over some time." He continues, "From Once On This Island, to Dreamgirls, to The King and I, to your most recent production of Sister Act, I have heard complaints, time and again, from minority artists, about their treatment; and, with Evita, it seems as if you have graduated from mistreatment to erasure." Several other theater artists have chimed in in the comments, many saying they were sending emails to Marriott's leadership on the subject.
Marriott leaders declined to be interviewed on the subject, but James issued the following statement via a press representative:
"We at Marriott Theatre are deeply saddened by the letter that Mr. Bellinger posted today. It undermines a continuing partnership with Actors‘ Equity Association in efforts to encourage ALL ethnicities to join in the audition process. The theatre announced Latino director/choreographer Alex Sanchez for Evita and encouraged all ethnicities to audition. The same is done for every production and stated in the audition notice.
"We have always respected and valued our actors; to say anything otherwise is a false and slanderous attack on our theater’s reputation. We have never received a complaint from any actor for mistreatment, nor has Actors‘ Equity Association who we reached out to today immediately after hearing of this open letter. Great effort goes into casting such productions as The King & I, mentioned in the letter, with 22 of the 26 actors in the cast identifying as Asian Pacific or other non-white, including the casting of a Latino actor as the King. Multiple productions of Dreamgirls and Hot Mikado, Once On This Island, Hairspray, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and others featuring ethnically diverse casting as well. The Marriott Theatre has a history of producing ethnically diverse productions of musical theatre, including our current production of Sister Act."
The "whitewashing" of characters of color has been a topic of much discussion in recent years across the country and across media, with controversy over casting of white actors in films like Gods of Egypt and in productions of plays including Lloyd Suh's Jesus in India and, remarkably, as Martin Luther King Jr. in Katori Hall's The Mountaintop. Locally, groups like the Chicago Inclusion Project have been leading conversations about diversifying casting on local stages.
Evita at the Marriott Theatre stars Hannah Corneau as Eva Perón (alternating with Samantha Pauly at some performances), Austin Lesch as Che, Larry Adams as Juan Perón, David Schlumpf as Magaldi, and Eliza Palasz as the Mistress. The ensemble includes William Carlos Angulo, Lauren Blane, Brian Bohr, Brianna Borger, Jameson Cooper, Bobby Daye, Alana Grossman, Anne Gunn, George Keating, Lauren Kias, Josh Kohane, Kristina Larson-Hauk, Russell Mernagh, Christine Mild, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, James Rank, Todd Rhoades, Emily Rohm, Laura Savage and Jason Slattery. The production runs April 13–June 5.