Monday, Jul 28, 2014 04:27 pm est

Arts Issue: Celebrities on Broadway overpower productions

Posted on April 10, 2014 | by Sarah Nichols

via Flickr.com

Orlando Bloom, James Franco, Zachary Quinto, Bryan Cranston and Carly Rae Jepsen are all celebrities who are making or have made their Broadway debuts this season. For all audiences know, Miley Cyrus could be next.

In today’s theater age, almost every show has a big name on the billboard — attaching famous celebrities to a Broadway show can attract more producers, and therefore much more money.

While it is expensive to produce a show on Broadway, that does not mean the theater has to sell out to the film and music industries. Instead of pulling the biggest names for a show, perhaps directors and producers should begin to focus on the quality of the shows themselves.

Viewers’ need for celebrities onstage is making up for a lack of original work — revivals and musicals based on movies or books highly outweigh the amount of original work currently on Broadway.

The popularity of celebrities, thanks to social media and tabloids, has led theatergoers to crave some kind of interaction with these people. They often go to see a Broadway show for the celebrities, failing to appreciate the show for itself.

Furthermore, audiences applaud a celebrity as soon as he or she comes on stage, for no reason other than his or her fame — applauding them for their career, for their prior accomplishments, which has nothing to do with the world of the play. By clapping at their entrance, audiences diminish the world of the play. In that moment, the actor onstage becomes more important than the production, and that is not what theater should be about.

By putting these film and music stars up on the Broadway stage, Broadway has become a zoo — people pay admission to see their favorite animal in a cage, not to see the entire zoo.

In the days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, celebrities trained in theater were multi-talented. There was no pressure to bring people in from other media because, at that time, the theater itself was popular as its own separate art form. But, because there is less public interest in the theater today, celebrities are brought in to sell more tickets. In this way, the core principles of Broadway have changed.

Today, Broadway shows are more about who stars in them than what they are. This phenomenon is not too surprising as Broadway caters mostly to tourists and focuses on what will sell tickets. But as soon as celebrity stars begin to overpower the shows themselves, theater becomes much less vibrant, depending on the popularity of people from other art forms to bring in money.

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

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