By Katie Aramento, Staff Writer
Whether we like it or not, Broadway marquees are shining the names of Hollywood stars now more than ever.
For example, Emma Stone made her Broadway debut last night as Sally Bowles alongside Alan Cumming in “Cabaret,” following Michelle Williams, another Hollywood actress, who exited the show after having made her Broadway debut when it opened in April.
This trend isn’t new, just growing. Numerous Hollywood celebrities have come and gone in the revival of “Chicago” over the years, and, as I see it, these famous names—such as Alan Thicke, Ashley Simpson and Jerry Springer—are the only reason that the show is still running. “High School Musical” and “Spring Breakers” star Vanessa Hudgens will take on the title role in the upcoming revival of “Gigi,” and Bradley Cooper will make his Broadway debut in “The Elephant Man” in December.
While I believe that some actors who have appeared on Broadway in the past few years absolutely deserved their chances to display their brilliance on the stage (Denzel Washington, Bryan Cranston, and Tom Hanks, to name a few), I do wonder if Broadway is becoming little more than a marketing scam. In a perfect world, theatre would always be about the art and the performance quality, and never about ticket sales. But, alas, there is rarely such a thing. Obviously, Broadway is a commercial industry; there would be no Broadway without money, and there would be no money without an audience.
Undoubtedly, an element of stardom is needed to draw in that audience these days. And, honestly, it’s becoming quite irritating that Broadway producers are hiring celebrities based on their names and not on their talent. Take, for example, the fact that Kris Jenner was in talks to star as Velma Kelly (I know, I don’t want to imagine it either). I’m no expert, but what talent does this woman pose? Getting your daughter famous for her sex tape doesn’t equal “Broadway star” in my book.
More reasonably, take the popularity of “If/Then;” why is a show with lackluster reviews still so popular? Simple: because Idina Menzel plays Elsa in “Frozen.” Those marketing professionals are genius for opening the show in March of this year, after Disney had placed a “Frozen” singalong in theatres and “Let It Go” had become a chart-topping hit. While Menzel made her start on Broadway and definitely had a fan following previously, she almost had to do a huge Hollywood movie to garner an audience. Similarly, Sutton Foster took on “Bunheads,” Taye Diggs and Audra McDonald were on “Private Practice,” Laura Benanti is now starring on “Nashville,” and Annaleigh Ashford appears on “Masters of Sex.” It’s no secret that if Broadway actors don’t get to Hollywood, their theatrical careers wont go much farther because they won’t sell the tickets.
I’m in no way devaluing film and television actors, here; they do brilliant work everyday. But Ashlee Simpson isn’t an actor, and neither is Kris Jenner. And I do wonder if the future of Broadway is going to be entirely influenced by the namesake of celebrities. Broadway actress and star of the upcoming revival of “The King and I,” Kelli O’Hara, argues, “ ‘There is a pressure, if you want to keep doing theatre, to eventually get a little television so that you keep being valuable at the box office.’”
An example of this just occurred the other day, when it was announced that Matthew Morrison will star in “Finding Neverland” when it comes to Broadway in April of 2015, replacing Jeremy Jordan, who played the role in Boston this summer. Morrison has starred on “Glee” since 2009, and while Jordan did appear on “Smash,” the show failed; many believe that this is Jordan’s best role to date, but producers of “Finding Neverland” needed a big name headliner. This isn’t to say that Morrison doesn’t belong or that he isn’t talented—he got his start on Broadway. But why take the role away from someone who was perfect in it just because he isn’t as famous?
The point is, whether or not these Hollywood celebrities have the talent, they are bringing in the ticket sales that are keeping Broadway afloat. Non-theatre based audiences are drawn in because of them. And while I believe that Foster, McDonald and Benanti would’ve done, and would continue to do, just as great work had they not appeared on television, they have to get their names out there; it’s a part of the business!