Star Casting Vs. Understudy

More and more, shows are being sold on who is in them and not what the show is. While this is useful to producers who wish to get bums on seats and recover their investment, it often leads to some ugly behaviour among theatregoers.

I remember when I went to see Cabaret at the Savoy, Will Young was playing the role of Emcee but on the night I went along, he was indisposed due to illness. Many people were clamouring at the box office to get their ticket exchanged for a different performance but worse was when the house lights went down. When the announcement came that the role was to be played by the understudy and Young was not to appear, there was a dissatisfied, disgusted groan from some audience members. Fortunately, those who had come to see the show and not the ‘star’ applauded the understudy and he was outstanding in the role.
Much press has been given to the understudy role in the past year with high profile cast illnesses including Glenn Close, Sheridan Smith and Amber Riley. While, if you have booked a show to see a certain celebrity I can see you would be frustrated if you had paid the inflated ticket prices which leads to the question, are the star billings always worth it?
If having a star name means you have to put up ticket prices and face the possibility of out pricing certain audience members, producers need to question why they are in the business at all. Yes, it is a business and you have to make money to survive but that shouldn’t be at the cost of theatre. The show should come first.
So I don’t mind if the name above the title on the poster is not in the show if they are poorly, they are human after all. The understudy has that job because they are just as able to undertake that role and, so long as the show is the same and quality maintained, then I am happy.

Where do you stand on the debate?

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