Yes, you need minorities
In terms of pet peeves, the biggest one I have is going to see a show that calls for minority actors only to find myself watching a bunch of Caucasians shamelessly hop around onstage singing "Run and Tell That" from Hairspray or "America" from West Side Story.
I don't know when every community theater got together and decided that when the creators of a show ask for minority actors, they're really just suggesting it, but the trend needs to stop.
If a show calls for an African-American, Asian, or Hispanic actor, there's usually a reason for it. Maybe the author(s) felt it was important to the character's background. Maybe they wanted to ensure that their show would always have a diverse look to it. Maybe it's their show and not yours and you should honor their decision regardless of how much you want to do In the Heights but can't find the actors you need.
Ultimately, it is unfortunate that sometimes minority actors can be hard to find, but that doesn't then give a theater to completely disregard the author's intent. It also looks completely ridiculous when an audience shows up for Rent and there isn't a single minority actor in the cast (I think I saw four of those in a row when Rent was licensed to community theaters. I'm sure Jonathan Larsen was doing belly flops in the grave that year.)
Every time I come across an example of this, I see this image in my head of a director throwing a temper tantrum because they want to do Miss Saigon but can't find the Asian actors, but gosh darnit they're just going to do it anyway, because their audiences won't say anything.
That last part is what always gets me. Whenever I bring up that an actor in a show was miscast, for any reason, people always act as if I'm being a stickler and Arthur Laurents would have been totally okay with Maria in West Side Story being played by a Swedish girl with red hair.
One of the factors in choosing a show is making sure you have the cast for it. That means if you really want to do Aida and all you have are Italian kids--don't do Aida. Having everybody in your cast go tanning before the show isn't going to work, and, if anything, it's really offensive.
Whenever I see a theater taking numerous liberties with a show, I always wonder why they didn't just pick something else. There are so many plays and musicals, surely it would be better to pick something that can be done well instead of bastardizing another piece just because somebody really, really, really wants to do it.
I always wanted to do Hello Dolly! but my mother wouldn't let me build a giant staircase in the backyard, so I did Phantom instead. (Kidding, sortakindanotreally.)
So, just to wrap things up, and to make sure this is clear for those of you who own theaters or direct or have any part in casting a show or perhaps think that Coalhouse in Ragtime can be played by a Russain albino, here's the rundown:
If you don't have any minorities, stay away from Rent, Aida, Hairspray, West Side Story, In the Heights, The King and I, Once on This Island, Fame, Ragtime, Pacific Overtures, I'm just going to put Fame again since I can't stand seeing another Carmen with blonde hair, Ain't Misbehavin', The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Amen Corner, Children of Eden, Caroline, or Change, or Hallelujah Baby! (Although I'd really like to see that last one.)
For all other shows, use good judgement. Although frankly, I'm seeing less and less of that everywhere I go.
Kevin Broccoli is a local writer, actor, and director living and working in Providence, Rhode Island. His work has been produced by various companies across the state. He can be reached at Kevin071984@yahoo.com.