In recent months there have been several posts on The Drama Teacher concerning the trend of not-so-delicately placing television and film stars in mainstream theatre shows. The results can be fantastic when it works out, but when the stars leave, another story unfolds.
The 2000s have seen an unprecedented number of well known stars tread the boards in Broadway shows ranging from Chicago to The Producers. But has it got to the point where the star is more important than the show, itself?
Now we hear of yet another casualty of the Broadway theatre star system, where it has been revealed that the largely successful “Promises, Promises” is closing prematurely solely because it’s stars were considered irreplaceable by the show’s producers. When Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth decide to leave in early January, a show that this week grossed over $950,000 at the box office, closes the same night.
There are at least two problems here. Firstly, should a show close simply because its well-known leads are leaving for other projects? And perhaps more importantly, is it a concern that a show relies so heavily on box office success from its stars? In the case of the “Promises, Promises” revival, this is a show that was built around Hayes and Chenoweth from the outset.
The same trend has also existed in other theatre-loving countries. In Australia, the two largest mainstream professional theatre companies, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Melbourne Theatre Company, are full of productions with well-known local television and film stars. Granted, theatre is a legitimate way for these actors to use their craft, but, like on Broadway, they sell more tickets as a result. Do these stars guarantee the show is of better quality? Of course not, but does the average theater-goer care about this when they buy the ticket to see their star on stage?
We all know Hollywood film stars sell movies like hotcakes and for a couple of decades now perhaps no one helps a film’s box office gross like Tom Cruise does. But should it be the same for the theatre? Is the theatre in a healthy place by continuing to bolster this trend, or are we doing theatre more harm than good both now and in the long run?