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SOUTH END

Miss Saigon, the anti-show

Group targets Asian stereotypes in hit musical

The hit musical "Miss Saigon" is coming to the Boston area next month and bringing protests with it.

Ever since its 1991 Broadway opening, "Miss Saigon" has been synonymous with controversy. Asian-American groups and other critics, who took to the streets in angry protests during the musical's Broadway run, have charged that the show promotes all-too-familiar Western stereotypes of Asian women.

This year in Boston, a group of Asian-American artists intends to do something about it.

Led by Jane Jung, 24, of Cambridge, a board member of Boston's Asian American Resource Workshop, the group of six has begun collecting performance pieces and developing a program for a February "counterproduction" of the musical. Jung plans to take the show, which opens Feb. 24 at the South End's Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center, on the road to local college campuses.

"We want to restage certain scenes from the musical and rewrite many of the lyrics," Jung explained. "We're looking to twist the plot in order to create a bit of subversive theater -- to raise some serious questions about the portrayal of Asians, and especially Asian women, in mainstream theater."

Drawing from extant as well as unpublished works by artists from around the country, the "counterproduction" will be an evening of music, poetry performance, and satirical theater. The show's title, "Missed Sigh Gone," is drawn from a poem sent to the group by a writer who lives in Minnesota.

Jung explains that the group, which will ultimately include 10 to 15 amateur and professional performers, hopes to reach an audience that is not limited to Boston's Asian-American community or to the usual urban crowd.

"I'd be very happy to see people at the show who plan on going to the traditional production in the suburbs," said Jung. "We want the show to be part of a larger conversation among people from all backgrounds and age groups."

The show is also intended to give artists and members of the Asian-American community a way to vent frustration with what they regard as persistent stereotyping in theater and the wider culture.

"Instead of going out on the street and holding up signs," says Giles Li, one of the show's organizers and founder of the Boston Progress Arts Collective, "we're trying to make something here which is more of a creative protest, a productive response. It will be powerful to see the community come together and create something like this."

The show is also timely because of its wartime subject matter, said Jung.

In addition to cosponsoring "Missed Sigh Gone," the Asian American Resource Workshop will serve as a community sponsor of the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center's "Still Present Pasts," an exhibit in which Korean American artists from around the country take up the issue of Korean Americans and the "Forgotten War" (the Korean War).

"It's easy for many people to ignore the far-reaching consequences of wartime rhetoric," said Jung, of Korean descent. "I think that's a big part of why we feel the need to respond in this way."

"Missed Sigh Gone" opens at the Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center in the South End Feb. 24 at 7 p.m.The traditional version of "Miss Saigon" opens Feb. 4 at the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton. The "Still Present Pasts" exhibit opens at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center Jan. 29 at 6:30 p.m. reception. For more information, contact Jane Jung at jenajnug@yahoo.com.

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