The Asian demographic consistently ranks as one of the lowest represented minority groups throughout the media. That isn’t to say that change hasn’t perspired; Sandra Oh recently became the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and Awkwafina recently won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy, becoming the first woman of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe in any lead actress film category. However, a prime area of concern in terms of Asian-American representation, especially in recent years, is Broadway. In a survey conducted by NBC News, Asians “accounted for just 4 percent of all roles.” This Asian-American/Pacific-Islander Heritage Month, it is important not only to recognize the clear disparities in representation for our community but to also acknowledge and celebrate the incredible work of barrier-shattering Broadway artists. The following is a list of just five Asian-Identifying Broadway performers that demonstrate the resiliency and creative brilliance of the Asian-American community. Please note that this is in no way an attempt to rank or define artists by the magnitude of their performances; rather, it is a celebration of the work that has been done, as well as a realization of the work that is yet to be done for Asian representation.
The first South-Asian female in a principal role on Broadway since Bombay Dreams, Indian-American Shoba Narayan recently made her Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated musical (and one I highly recommend!) Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Her other prominent credits include Eliza Hamilton in the touring company of Hamilton, as well as minor roles in Gossip Girl and Halal in the Family. She currently stars as Nessarose in the Broadway smash-hit WICKED.
Arguably the trailblazer for Broadway actors from the Philippines, Lea Salonga is a living legend: the voice of two beloved Disney princesses AND a Tony/Olivier winner for her portrayal of Kim in Miss Saigon. Mrs. Salonga is known worldwide for her soul-wrenching performances and vocal prowess. To young actors of Asian-descent, she remarked that “Someone who looks like me and looks like you can have this career.”
Chinese actor B.D. Wong is the only actor in Broadway history to receive the Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Clarence Derwent Award, and Theatre World Award for the same role. His portrayal of Song Liling in M. Butterfly received worldwide critical acclaim. Wong is openly gay and serves as an inspiration to LGBTQ+ actors of Asian descent within the performing arts.
A celebrated Japanese film actor, Ken Watanabe recently made his Broadway debut in Lincoln Center’s revival of The King and I, subsequently becoming the first actor of Japanese-descent to be nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
Eva Noblezada is one of Broadway’s most promising young actresses. At just twenty-four years old, the Filipina/Mexican actress has already been a finalist for the prestigious high school Jimmy Awards and has garnered two Tony Award nominations within the category of Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. She currently stars as Eurydice in the critically-acclaimed musical Hadestown, a folk-opera about Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld.
As a fellow member of the Asian American community, I understand that it is of paramount importance to celebrate these wonderful performers. Not only are they breaking career stereotypes for Asians-Americans, but they also are paving the way for performers of the future by diversifying the roles available for our community. I hope this article served as a heartwarming end to Asian-American/Pacific-Islander Heritage Month, and that you continue to seek awareness regarding our community through art!