No one ever suggests that only Danes are cast as Hamlet. Although not that the audience would know as the Danes like us are overwhelmingly caucasian.
The issue is specifically around black and ethnic minority roles. It is an issue because although some theatre laudably embraces colour blind casting, all too often there are vastly fewer opportunities.
So when productions that are strongly associated with BME roles come around and find those roles cast elsewhere then it is regrettable. It is an issue because last time I checked we still live in a society dominated by white, male privilege but I guess people just want a good time and not to be challenged by the theatre.
God bless the Young Vic, NT and others in the subsidised sector. Some theatres that understand that its a problem if their audience looks nothing like London as is and not as was a hundred years ago.
Slightly off-topic for West Side Story but someone had to burn those straw men arguments!
in this case it looks an untenable argument, and one sided special pleading . The show needs someone to provide some vocal highs. There are probably no Puerto Rican musical theatre singers in the country. There's certainly almost certainly no young top - hispanic, let alone Puerto Rican- sopranos who can sing the score - let alone well enough to sustain a tour. The idea that someone who looks remotely hispanic will do, is itself offensively racist, and it would still mean having someone who wasn't best going to sing or act the score.
Its difficult to argue that there's a relative shortage of roles for some ethnic minority performers at the moment - there's at least 5 current or recent musicals that effectively exclude actors of all but one colour from their leading roles. Its in the interests of all the other minorities that as many of the roles as possible continue to go to the best person for the job. There's 's otherise going to be very few roles otherwise for actors of Polish, Afghan, Arab , Spanish, Chinese or Indian descent. And if you always want to reserve ethnic roles for ethnically matched actors, the counter logic will begin to apply too, and we would be denied some the outstanding performances that colour blind casting, and casting on merit provides.
Its also nonsensical to suggest that having one token hispanic solves any issue that the gang is meant to be Puerto Rican. It would be - and look, silly tokenism. The chances of finding a gang of UK based Puerto Ricans who can dance, or sing, Westside Story are not great. One lead who can't sing the score, in a group of racially blind cast dancers from anywhere, from Musselborough to Middlesborough to Milan, Monmouth or Melbourne, would be a ridiculous solution.
There is no problem here thats not found in a high percentage of musicals. Things just are messy - with some roles being reserved for some ethnic minorities because they can be, and an increasing number are cast blind. People daily pretend to come from Texas, Kansas, California or Germany in all sorts of musicals. We don't have Californian Elle's or French Piaf's, or German Emcees, or even any Vietnamese in Miss Saigon, and we don't have Swedish Hedda's or Chinese actors , let alone people from Sichuan, in The Good Person Of Sichuan unless they happen to be the best available. Even when roles are cast ethnically, they often end up being done in a superficial, racist, way with West Africans playing East Africans and vice versa , or Phillipinos playing Vietnamese.
The task with Westside Story is to provide the vocal and dancing highs, while picking people who can play a unified looking, distinct gang. As you can't cast gangs who all look the same, thats down to the acting. I thought the US cast, which had a lot of hispanic members, didn't look tough or menacing enough to be gang members, and the two gangs looked more like one dance troupe than two warring gangs. Thats partly inherent in sticking to the original choregraphy and script, and partly how well tts acted, and how well its dancers can act.