Celebrities Sell to Theatregoers

Productions Dip Into Hollywood Talent to Drum Up Broadway Business

By Nora Murphy
Staff Writer
Published: November 15, 2007

With all the hoopla surrounding celebrities these days, it makes you wonder why they’d take a leap of faith into the theatre world. Under the watchful eye of critics and fans, a celebrity faces special pressure to perform at his or her best when on the Great White Way of Broadway.

In recent times, more and more Hollywood actors and actresses are dipping their toes into the hot waters of Broadway to test their acting skills and raise ticket sales. Recent stars to do so are Julia Roberts, Christina Applegate and now Jennifer Garner, who stars in “Cyrano De Bergerac,” which opened on Nov. 1 to good reviews. Daniel Radcliffe, better known as Harry Potter, will be starring in the upcoming American production of “Equus”—with a much-hyped nude scene—and there was even a rumor about Jake Gyllenhal planning to take the stage as well.

Yet just because a well-known Hollywood star is listed in the playbill, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the show will be good. Julia Roberts’ show “Three Days of Rain” was panned by critics, but that didn’t stop fans from spending top dollar on tickets. It is the star’s name that sells rather than the quality of the show, which makes the Broadway experience more like a movie rather than a live performance. Broadway has even been known to recycle marginal-but-familiar talent, such as everyone’s favorite sitcom dad, Bob Saget, who is currently appearing in “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

Surprisingly, Jennifer Garner, mainly known for her action roles such as Sydney Bristow in “Alias,” has proven to be an actress who can cross boundaries and put the Hollywood glamour behind her. Even the New York Times’ review of “Cyrano” said, “The latest in a series of boldface film and television actresses to test their stage legs (including Julia Roberts and Claire Danes), Ms. Garner seems by far the most comfortable.” It is that comfort and lack of starlet attitude that allows her to blend into the story and act out her part so well.

On the musical side, musicians are also becoming part of the trend. Lance Bass from *NSYNC, Ashley Parker Angel from O-Town and Fantasia from “American Idol” are all currently in the casts of Broadway musicals. This poses the question of whether having a movie star or a pop star in the cast ultimately helps Broadway or takes away from the experience of seeing purely trained theatre performers.

FCLC students think it’s a little of both. “It’s definitely more alluring to see a show that has a huge star in it. I know I’d be more tempted to go,” said Elayne Abreu, FCLC ’10.

While some prefer a name that they can trust, others just want to see those that perform the best. “I’d rather see people who were trained for Broadway because that’s what they’ve had their hearts set on since they were young. There’s a big difference between Hollywood and Broadway stars,” said Maria Xerakia, FCLC ’09.

With new shows opening all the time, there is more room for a celebrity to step in and take on the challenge of theatre, but at the same time, the crossover takes away opportunities from theatre performers to get cast in a role of their dreams.

“They already have so much going for them. Do they really need to go to Broadway too?” asked Lemonia Mavrogeorgis, FCLC ’09.

Stars of the screen will continue to dive into Broadway the same way that musicians want to act in films and release their own clothing lines. The desire to do a little bit of everything has become associated with the celebrity lifestyle, but when people spend $110 for orchestra seats, they had
better
perform well.