Arts Issue: Off Broadway shows need to balance stars, craft

April 10, 2014

via roundabouttheatre.org

The presence of celebrities in Off Broadway shows is few and far between. While their Broadway counterparts are taking part in the trend of casting celebrities — and obnoxiously advertising it — Off Broadway generally steers clear of this pattern.

In 2011, Zachary Quinto starred in an Off Broadway revival of “Angels in America.” Although a well-known celebrity starred in this production, the play’s advertising featured the strengths of the play itself rather than just publicizing the commercial rewards of casting a Hollywood actor as the lead.

Oftentimes, casts led by high-profile celebrities are over-publicized while the other merits of the play are downplayed. This imbalance leads to the attendance of jittery tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of said celebrities at the stage door rather than people who are actually coming to enjoy the play. Avoiding celebrity driven publicity helps maintain a play’s integrity.

Similarly, in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2013 Off Broadway revival of “Talley’s Folly,” starring Sarah Paulson (“12 Years a Slave,” “American Horror Story”), the fact that a well-known film and TV actress was cast in the show was only subtly advertised, giving due respect to the play.

On the poster, her name, along with the names of her fellow cast members, is in a relatively small font at the bottom, which shows that the priority lies within the staging, rather than the curb appeal. This advertising is quite unlike the posters for the Broadway revival of “Of Mice and Men,” where James Franco’s and Chris O’Dowd’s names are as large as the title.

One reason for the lack of celebrities Off Broadway may be the perceived stigma that accompanies this smaller theater scene. While Off Broadway shows are highly respected in the theater world, outsiders might sell them short for not being high-profile or flashy enough.

Popular Hollywood actors are most likely able to choose from a good selection of stage roles, and they might gravitate toward Broadway roles because they garner more publicity.

While celebrity casting can be a good way to entice non-theatergoers into seeing a show, the commercial aspect of this trend has gotten out of hand over the past few years. It has also resulted in a lack of regard for even Broadway shows, which are not respected as the pieces of theater that they are, but only as a chance to see A-list celebrities up close and personal.

Whether Broadway or Off Broadway, it is important to find a balance between praising the celebrity and giving due attention to the play — both aspects are crucial to a successful production, and they each deserve respect.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 10 print edition. Joseph Myers is a staff writer. Email him at theater@nyunews.com.

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