Can We Stop Applying Blanket Rules to Celebrity Casting?

Harriet Wilson

Celebrity casting has, historically, had its ups and downs, but it seems to me that most people are either all for it, or completely against it. Whilst I appreciate that there are some real positives and some unavoidable negatives when it comes to celebrity casting, I think it's time that we stop applying blanket rules and avoid having one opinion on such a broad topic. After all, each casting choice is different – yes, sometimes it misses the mark entirely but, equally, some celebrity casting works brilliantly.

Take, for example, Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl (West End and UK tour). I didn't hear a word of criticism for her performance; reviewers were raving about how she owned the stage and show. But Smith was cast, as a celebrity, in a role within a musical that could have been played by any number of other, talented people.

Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl

Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl

Smith's performance in Funny Girl is a great example of celebrity casting working well. But it also demonstrates a huge downfall in that, when she had to take some time away from the show due to family circumstances, people who had booked to see the show were devastated and some (in a manner that can only be seen as majorly unsympathetic) demanded refunds. The debate over whether shows should be advertised with a celebrity's name as more prominent than the name of the show is an issue in itself; suffice to say that, when people book tickets to see a certain celebrity in a show, seeing that celebrity is often considered a guarantee and this can cause problems down the line.

So Sheridan Smith's performance in Funny Girl was widely applauded but, in the end, caused a lot of problems for the show. Does that mean that we can assume the same will happen with all celebrity casting choices? Absolutely not. If we compare this to the performance of Miranda Hart in Annie (West End), it is hard to draw any parallels.

Hart's performance in Annie has been met with mixed views. In my opinion, she was absolutely brilliant in the role of Miss Hannigan. It wasn't 'the Miranda Hart show' – the child actors were still the stars – but, when Hart was on stage, she was (if not a very traditional Miss Hannigan) engaging, entertaining and a pleasure to watch. Many have disagreed with this view; all in all, the response from Hart's performance is really not comparable to Smith's. How can anybody say that they love or hate celebrity casting, when each show is so different?

A casting choice should be made with a multitude of factors borne in mind. The popularity of an actor is, of course, going to be one of these factors; it is unrealistic and, in all honesty, not at all sensible to say that this should be ignored. If the popularity of an actor is considered as more important than that actor's suitability for a given role then, yes, I would agree that, in that instance, celebrity casting would be wrong. But, if the popularity of an actor is seen as a bonus when the actor clearly fits the role in question, I really can't see the problem.

So can we stop applying blanket rules to celebrity casting? Any casting decision can be considered a good or a poor choice; this is just the same when it happens to be a celebrity who is cast. All in all, I think that we need to stop applauding or criticising casting choices based on assumptions and, instead, wait to form an opinion after we've seen the show in question.


Harriet has been immersed in the theatre life from a multitude of angles, from writing to working backstage to performing. She spends most of her spare time in the West End or regional theatres and fills the rest with talking about the wonderful world of theatre through regular blogs.

For more of my blogs and reviews, check out my website, Thespian Therapy, and follow me on Twitter, @thespian_blog

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