Selling Tickets Or Selling Out? – Opinion: Celebrities On Broadway

Allie Gillman ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
of-mice-and-men broadway
Something about the way Broadway shows are being marketed today seems a bit askew. Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan. James Franco in Of Mice and Men. Carly Rae Jepsen in Cinderella.  It seems like the only way to sell a show these days is by casting a celebrity. But in theater, is selling tickets worth selling out?
When I see theatre, I expect to see a great show, especially if I’m shelling out $100+ for a Broadway ticket. And if a celebrity can deliver that, then I wholeheartedly support any “famous” actor who has chosen to make the transition from the silver screen to the stage. But when I hear of instances like Nick Jonas taking over the role of Finch in the revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, I shudder at the thought of how many no-name triple threats in New York who are exponentially more well-equipped to handle a role like that were turned down in the hopes of Jonas’s celebrity status bringing in some extra cash.
It’s not that I don’t understand the concept. Broadway producers aren’t solely in this business for the art, they’re in it for the money too, and they stand to lose a lot if the show flops. By casting a household name in the highest billed role, they are that much more likely to sell tickets to the family of tourists from Nebraska who has never heard the name Sutton Foster before. But where do you draw the line between a strategic business move and selling your soul to commercialism? (Somewhere between Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson, I think).
I say if a celebrity is the most qualified candidate for the role, then by all means, cast him. But I think it is truly a shame when fresh, raw talent is passed up for a big name, especially when the sell-outs aren’t even monetarily successful. For example, ticket sales dropped drastically and led to an earlier-than-anticipated closing during Jonas’s spin in How To Succeed.
If it seems like I’m picking on Nick Jonas, I’m not. There have been many experienced actors who you’d expect to beautifully transition from screen to stage who have also been known to fall flat. In the recent Broadway revival of The Heiress, starring the Juilliard graduate, recent Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain, I was wildly underwhelmed by her performance as one of Broadway’s most famous ingénues. Ben Brantley of the New York Times agreed, saying “…curiously for an expert film actress, she is guilty here of oversignaling the thoughts within”.
To quote composer Jeff Bowen in a line from his less-than-successful musical [title of show], “I believe that a good product with talented people is the way to go. Hiring some talent-free celebrity just lowers the bar and I think audiences deserve better”. Unfortunately, Bowen is in the minority with this opinion. Nowadays, producers are far more likely to cast a name than talent. It’s a money game, and commercialism is winning by a landslide.
I expect Idina Menzel’s new show If/Then will benefit greatly from her recent success in the Disney film Frozen. But Idina gives me hope. She was once a no-name in a no-name’s Off-Broadway show, and now Jonathan Larson’s Rent is one of the most popular rock musicals of all time, and Idina was just seen by millions of people singing “Let It Go” on the Oscars before it went on to receive the Academy Award. And now she is returning to her roots onstage, which, for producers, is a win-win. She has both the name recognition to draw crowds and the stage experience to be successful. I’d take that over Paris Hilton in The Apple Tree any day.

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