When you book to see a musical do you book to see the show or the cast? Personally, I do both – if I want to see a particular show I book it regardless of the cast but on the other hand, I do sometimes book a show just to see a particular actor or singer. Having said that, I have passed up the chance to see actors I like if the show they’re in is not really my cup of tea. I recently booked to see Phantom of the Opera for the first time on the strength of John Owen-Jones’ return and while John was fabulous, I now know why I waited 29 years to see the show. Needless to say I’m not fussed about seeing it again. I would much rather wait to see him in a show I love.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, in recent months, ever since Alfie Boe has been in Les Mis on Broadway, this topic has become a bit of a hot potato so after much thought, this blog post is my take on the issue.
When you book a musical what are you booking to see? What does that booking guarantee you? A theatre ticket guarantees that you will have a seat (some better than others) to see that particular show at that particular performance. That is all it guarantees you, nothing else. Unlike a ticket for a concert, it does not guarantee that your favourite cast member will be performing either, even if you have checked all the information available every minute until you get to the theatre. It does not guarantee that you will enjoy the performance of every actor or even the show itself and it also does not guarantee that you will have the chance to thank the cast for their performance afterwards.
Of course, we all want to see our favourite actors and singers in a show and it can be devastating to find out, often at short notice where illness is concerned, that we won’t see them perform. Considering the price of theatre tickets (especially the better seats) last minute cancellations can be particularly annoying. Factor in travel costs as well as the cost of seeing a show can be incredibly high. However, it isn’t the star that we are paying to see, it’s the whole show and there’s the difference. The show will go on, to coin a phrase, and all the other cast members and musicians will still give the best performance they can. In my view, it is insulting to those performers to be told that their performance does not matter to a considerable number of the audience, which is the implication every time someone says their evening or even their entire trip has been ruined because the star is not there.
Obviously, as this is a fan site for Alfie Boe, I’m mostly talking about Les Mis in New York; to my mind, some of the enjoyment at hearing reports from New York and of seeing audiences react to the might and power of Alfie’s JVJ has been lessened by the comments from disappointed theatre goers at not seeing him perform on occasions. With a few exceptions, Alfie’s rest days have been posted online well in advance and are largely no different to the number of rest days / performances enjoyed by the previous JVJ, Ramin Karimloo.
Of course, this discussion is old hat to those fans who were fans when Alfie played JVJ in the West End – there were a number of unplanned absences due to illness in that run and feelings ran quite high amongst disgruntled fans at the time. During that run, many fans came from far afield to see Alfie in Les Mis and for them, it was devastating to find out that Alfie could not perform due to illness. The same applies now with many UK fans travelling to New York to see Alfie. If you are travelling a short distance to see the show, it’s not so much of a problem as you can probably arrange to go again and hope for better luck next time. However, when you are travelling a very long way and the trip amounts to a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience then you would undoubtedly feel very differently about short notice cast changes. In that case, perhaps the discussion should focus on the following question: Are you booking that ‘once in a lifetime’ trip for the trip or for the possibility of seeing your favourite star perform? One of these answers certainly lends itself to a greater possibility of disappointment.
Reading this back again, I think it’s clear what my opinion of this thorny subject is! I should also make it clear that I have not been to see Les Mis in New York and so have not had to face any disappointment. If anyone has had this happen and saw the understudy instead of Alfie, I’d love to know how that influenced your whole experience of the show. Also, this gives us the perfect opportunity to talk about stage door experiences; should we expect the star of the show to come out after every performance?
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