Diversity might be a buzzword for everyone else in the acting industry “but it doesn’t seem to work quite the same for our faith”, claimed Maureen Lipman this week, who slammed a new musical that has cast non-Jewish actors in specifically Jewish roles.
Lipman, who plays Evelyn Plummer in Coronation Street, was one of 20 signatories of a letter, published in The Stage, denouncing what they called “Jew-face” in the upcoming London production of Falsettos.
Falsettos, which opens next Friday at The Other Palace, centres on Jewish identity through the point of view of a Jewish family living in New York.
The letter laments the casting of non-Jewish actors in Jewish roles in the Tony-winning musical, as well as other productions such as Angels in America, The Lehman Trilogy, Caroline, Or Change and The Merchant of Venice.
Falsettos‘ production company Selladoor released a statement saying it did not ask cast members about race or religion.
“We have complete trust in our creative and production teams to ensure that this production properly represents all of the wonderful characters represented created by William Finn and James Lapine,” it said.
Other letter signatories included actress Miriam Margolyes, the playwright Stephen Laughton and theatre director Adam Lenson. “It’s quite nice to see me and Miriam Margolyes actually agreeing on something,” Lipman joked in an interview with JN.
Lipman said: “The one thing I don’t want to do is whinge. I am a lucky woman and I have been having a great career.
“All I am saying that it’s becoming a fairer world for people of diversity but it’s going the other way for us.
“Nowadays, you wear your ethnicity like women wear their pregnancy bumps. You want to see the bellybutton. Now maybe that’s a good thing but it doesn’t seem to work quite the same for our faith.”
Lipman urged industry professionals to cast more Jewish actors in Jewish roles. “They’re not looking hard enough in the bastion of Jewish actors when it comes to the Lehman brothers, when it comes to Shylock,” she said.
“If you’re casting Fiddler, if you’re casting the Lehman brothers, if you’re casting a play which is about Jewish people, then first see every Jewish actor there is.
“Don’t make Holocaust survivors played by people who are not Jewish unless they’re gypsies or homosexuals.”
The actress also discussed the practice commonly adopted by performers from minority backgrounds to adopt stage names, saying: “If I called myself Masha Lipmanovitch when I came into the business, I don’t think I’d be sitting here having my lunch in the Coronation Street canteen.
“There’s a reason why Issur Danielovitch changed his name to Kirk Douglas. It wouldn’t have done well, but nowadays Reese Witherspoon and Renée Zellweger are able to keep their names.
“The times are where it’s important to stand up and be proud, but as far as Natalie Portman is concerned, probably Neta-Lee Hershlag wouldn’t have done such good business.”