Ethnic minority performers win four prizes at the WhatOnStage awards

The awards come at a time of heightened  sensitivity about a perceived lack of diversity on stage and screen

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The Independent Culture

Ethnic minority performers took home the four main musical acting prizes at the WhatOnStage awards tonight – to the delight of diversity campaigners.

The West End revival of Miss Saigon – which tells the story of an ill-fated romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar-girl during the Vietnam War – was the night’s biggest winner with a record nine awards. 

Hispanic-American Eva Noblezada and Filipino Jon Jon Briones, the production’s leading lady and man, took home Best Actress in a Musical and Best Actor in a Musical, while Filipino Rachelle Ann Go and Korean actor Kwang-Ho Hong won the prizes for best supporting roles in a musical. The production also took awards for direction, choreography and set design.

The awards come at a time of  heightened  sensitivity about a perceived lack of diversity on stage and screen, with high-profile figures including comedian Lenny Henry, Selma actor David Oyelowo, and shadow arts minister Chris Bryant speaking out on the issue.

Every acting award at this year’s Baftas went to a white actor while the Oscars were criticised for shortlising no ethnic minority actors.

Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer in 'Miss Saigon'

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith of Act For Change, a campaign group for diversity on the stage, said he was ‘thrilled’ by the news but said that there was more work to be done.

“This will offer encouragement to young people and East Asians are particularly under-represented on the stage,” he said.

Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Miss Saigon’s producer, said he was particularly flattered by the recognition as the WhatsOnStage awards are the only of the major theatre prizes to be voted for entirely by the audience.

The original West End Miss Saigon ran for 4,264 performances before closing in October 1999. It was revived at the Prince Edward Theatre last year, to rave reviews. David Tennant won Best Actor for his turn in Richard II and former pop star Billie Piper triumphed as Best Actress for Great Britain. Coriolanus, put on by the Donmar Warehouse, was the most-successful play of the night, taking home three awards and Sheffield Theatres won Best Regional Production for the second year running, for Oliver!