I only started this whole blog thing a few days ago after being told by a lovely performer friend that I should have one. We were in this pub in Soho along with her boyfriend just before watching Jersey Boys and were talking about this and that. And whenever it came to anything theatre related I would skip in a “Oh, but that show is going into that theatre” or “He finishes in that show in a month”. Just random theatre news stuff really – for some reason I’m quite good at remembering things like that (I wish I would have been that good at remembering vocabulary back in my school days!!). So in the end she said “You should have a theatre blog!!”. Which brings me to the here and now. I’m sitting outside with my notebook. It’s a lovely day, apparantly the last day of summer if the weather forecast is right for once. And I’m thinking “Now that I’ve got this blog I actually have to be interesting!”. I do feel the pressure I promise you!
And since I have no show to review at this point (unless you want me to write about shows I’ve seen more than 2 weeks ago which I will if I get asked to do so!) I thought I’d squeeze in a piece about theatre and celebrities. Because lets face it, the Jude Law’s and Keira Knightley’s and Hugh Jackman’s of this world are a part of theatre life. More and more movie and tv actors (and sometimes even popstars) take the step onto a theatre stage.
I’ve had the chance to see quite a few well known people in plays and musicals. And yes, there have been shows I have gone to see especially because I wanted to see “that famous person” in it. It’s obvious producers like to put someone famous in a show as this almost guarantees an increase in ticket sales. And theatre is after all a business.
My biggest fear whenever I hear of a celebrity taking on a part in a show is that ticket sales are the only reason for casting that person. Who cares about talent? He/She is going to put bums on seats! So honestly, all the time I go and see a show that has someone more or less famous in it I’m filled with a kind of hesitation and I do try and lower my expectations. Of course, there are exceptions. When I went to see A Steady Rain with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig on Broadway (front row seat I might add) I was over the moon with excitement! That was the theatrical event of the year for me and I had been raving about it for weeks and weeks before the actual day. No hesitation or low expectations – I was about to see Hugh Jackman on stage and I expected him to blow me away! And he did I can assure you. Both him and Daniel Craig were beyond amazing. And yes, I did meet them both and yes, I did get a pic with Mr. Jackman and yes, I was the happiest girl on the planet in that moment!
But those exceptions aside a celebrity on stage always fills me with worry. Will he/she be able to act properly, on a stage, in front of a live audience, with no chance to just shout “Cut!” and do the whole scene again?
Maybe I’ve just been lucky but so far I can honestly report I haven’t witnessed any complete disasters in that department. I admit I will never be fond of Duncan James’ Billy Flynn and I found his Warner a bit bland (but actually missed him when Richard Fleeshman took over – funny enough I loved Richard’s performance in Ghost!). But there has been no one who’s performance I really disliked. Actually a lot of famous people have surprised me by being proper stage actors and actresses. There was Daniel Radcliffe in Equus. Who thought little Harry Potter had it in him to take on a part like that? Yes, it was a bit of a shocker to see the guy run around the stage naked for what seemed like an eternity but I think he did really well in that play and I’m happy I got to see him.
Christian Slater in One Flew Over The Cockoo’s Nest – quite a dark part in a not very happy play and he was brilliant. Although I have to add that Mackenzie Crook (you know, that guy from The Office and the pirate with the fake eye from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) stole the show for me. Amazing acting!
There was Josh Hartnett in Rain Man. I expected a pretty face and I got that plus a proper stage actor. He knew exactly where to pause and how to hold the audience’s attention.
Ben Barnes in Birdsong – pure charisma on stage! Matthew Fox in In A Forest Dark And Deep – there’s definitely more to that guy than Jack from Lost. Ethan Hawke in A Winter’s Tale – he can even sing, I didn’t know that!
Jeff Goldblum in Speed-the-Plow and Prisoner Of Second Avenue – two great performances which I enjoyed tremendously. Rowan Atkinson in Oliver – such a versatile actor who played Fagin with just the right mixture of humor and danger. John Stamos in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway – the show was a small disaster (cheap set, not so great child actors and the whole thing was rather tacky) but it did keep me entertained and that was mainly due to John. He was funny and he could sing. Gillian Anderson in A Doll’s House – I’ve been watching the X-Files right from the start (I can still throw random quotes from the show at you without thinking about it) so I was a little biased. But that woman, as tiny as she is, has such a huge amount of talent that it didn’t even occur to me to see Scully from The X-Files. I saw Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s play.
Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls – the man can sing and dance and act. I might add that he wasn’t my favourite Sky Masterson (Norman Bowman and Sebastien Torkia share that throne) but I definitely enjoyed his performance a lot. Jude Law in Hamlet – what a breathtaking performance and I’m usually not someone who really enjoys Shakespeare.
Ok, not every performance was flawless and amazing. David Schwimmer in Some Girls – the guy did well but basically he was just Ross from Friends on that stage. It fit the character he portrayed but it didn’t convince me of him as a stage actor. After all this was no real challenge, he’d had years to perfect Ross. Keira Knightley in The Misanthrope was alright but nothing outstanding if you ask me (but then the play itself wasn’t my thing either). And David Hasselhoff in Chicago – I’m not going to say anything nasty about The Hoff! He was my childhood hero (there, I’ve said it!!) and I will always have a soft spot for him. And his Billy Flynn was entertaining and not that bad. He certainly seemed to enjoy being on stage. It’s just once you’ve seen people like Alex Bourne play the part you know how it should be done.
The one thing I don’t like is putting wannabe clebrities on stage in the hope of selling more tickets which mostly happens in musical theatre. There are talented people out there for those parts. People who have worked hard to succeed in the business and who deserve a chance to shine. And yet they get pushed aside by so called “names” who often lack the voice and the skills for the part they play.
So, I say yes to celebrities on stage if they have what it takes. And from my experience the really famous people are often the ones with the real talent. Only very few less known celebs (but still celebs as people will say “Haven’t I seen her/him on the telly?” when they see their picture or read their name) have convinced me of being worthy of their part in a West End show. And that always leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth as I know those people are standing on that stage just because they are who they are and nothing more. As much as I do understand the need to sell a show to Joe Public it shouldn’t be necessary to do so by putting names on stage. The aim should be to produce shows that sell because the audience wants to see the show and not “so and so” in the show. It’s possible! Look at Wicked or Jersey Boys for example.
Sadly the general public often expects to get something “special” (and who can blame them for 65 quid) and in these days that often involves well known people on stage. I really wish people would start to admire and respect the theatre more and actually enjoy being entertained by a good story, a good score and a talented cast. Well, I can always dream, right?
And by the way, I didn’t mention Kevin Spacey in this blog because let’s face it: Kevin Spacey may be a celebrity but he’s also Kevin Spacey! The man is an acting genius and clearly belongs on a theatre stage.