Lewis C. Baird
Everyone loves seeing a “celebrity” in their local theatre, this could be the person in question featuring in a musical, play or even a pantomime. However, in recent years stunt casting has become an increasing tactic used by producers to increase ticket sales. Is this tactic stopping new talent being showcased within the UK’s theatres?
Today ‘Waitress’, one of the newest Broadway transfers into London’s west end announced two new members of cast, with the emerging west end star Lucie Jones taking over from Katharine McPhee as Jenna, and Pussycat Dolls member Ashley Roberts taking over from west end newcomer Laura Baldwin as Dawn. Lucie taking over from Katherine is delightful news, as we already knew that Katharine was there for a limited season to kick off the run at the Adelphi theatre. However, there is no reason why Laura Baldwin is being replaced by Ashley Roberts. Ashley is only there through summer and it has been confirmed that Laura will return to the role after Ashley finishes her run. So why is this original London cast member being replaced by a so-called celeb who has no musical experience?
I personally think that the producers are already stressing out about ticket sales and are bringing Ashley in as a stunt to increase ticket sales. This is a bad move in my opinion. ‘Waitress’ is a brand-new show in London, it only opened in February and with that the reviews were all pretty much four stars which is brilliant. So why are the producers being so harsh in its first six months of opening by switching up casting so drastically? I say there should be stability, keep the original cast (apart from Katharine obviously), and allow the audience to fall in love with them. Audiences flock back to see their favourite performers develop in a role; however, these producers are simply not giving the cast enough time to do so. This may have more of a damaging effect to their ticket sales than positive, as today it is clear within the musical theatre fanbase that there is unease at this casting and they do not agree with Laura having to stand down to make way for Ashley due to the producer's stunt casting.
This is not the only musical to do this, and it definitely won’t be the last. ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ constantly casts big names to feature. Shane Ritchie, Bianca Del Rio, Michelle Visage and Faye Tozer are some of the names to feature in this much-loved musical. As much as Bianca and Michelle are champagne casting due to their relation to the drag world, there is still the issue with the fact that we have talent in the west end who would be able to play these characters perfectly and the show would live on through the dedicated fanbase it has heavily established through it’s time in London. The casting team definitely have the ability to pick the perfect west end talent for these roles as they did with John McCrea and now Layton Williams as Jamie.
‘All My Sons’ which is currently playing at London’s Old Vic has also fallen into the stunt casting category, as major Hollywood stars Sally Field and Bill Pullman take the starring roles of Kate and Joe Keller. They are also accompanied by UK television stars Colin Morgan as Chris and Jenna Coleman as Ann. With this, the thing that should entice audiences to the theatre should be the production itself, not the big names featured. As much as it is great to have these actors in the west end, the director, Jeremy Herrin, should have a high quality and enticing production that these big names shouldn’t need to feature. And that would make way for new or existing theatre acting talent that deserves the break.
Most UK touring musicals have a big name featured to sell tickets, which is a brilliant idea, as it is a good device to sell tickets and they aren’t really standing on people’s toes. However, even at that, there needs to be an equal balance of fresh talent being showcased. An excellent example of this is the newest touring production of ‘Rock of Ages’, with celebrity names Anthony Costa, Kevin Clifton and Kevin Kennedy, being balanced out with musical theatre royalty Jodie Steele, Lucas Rush, Zoe Birkett and Luke Walsh.
There are so many successful musicals out there in the UK that don’t need the stunt casting to survive and showcase amazing existing or emerging talent, such as ‘Come From Away’, ‘Six’, ‘Kinky Boots’, ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Wicked’, ‘The Woman in Black’, ‘The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-time' and ‘War Horse’ so I don’t understand why other shows need to differ, unless their production or marketing is failing. But even then, stunt casting shouldn’t be the way to go, there should be changes made to the marketing tactics or even slight changes in production which fill seats. I am one of the many who object to celebrities getting casted in roles which rightfully belong to actors/actresses who have trained and worked hard in the industry to only be rejected for a “bigger name”. This is becoming a common occurrence in the UK, and it needs to change.