Musicals: Star Performers and the Show

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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8 thoughts on “Musicals: Star Performers and the Show

  1. Kathi

    I planned one of those “once in a lifetime” trips on Dec. 4th. Alfie did not perform that night, and as we had plane tickets home the next afternoon, it was a disappointment. However, I did get to see NYC at Christmas, and it was indeed magical. Having seen Les Mis 5-6 times in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, I must admit that I went to see the star. Not to be deterred, I went again in January when he was unable to perform because of illness. Most people would give up. I’m trying again this weekend and hoping one of the performances on Feb. 12-13 will be the one. Here’s hoping . . .

  2. Susan Guare

    I am relatively new to Broadway. Up till now, my experience had been community theatre, regional theatre, high school productions varying in quality, and a few trips to Boston. My first trip to “see a star” was to Les Mis to see Ramin Karimloo. He was not on the night we were there. The understudy, Aaron Walpole, did a fine job. I was disappointed, but I am one of those who could (and did) make plans to go again. It’s no small trip for us, an 8-hour drive plus the cost of hotels, meals, etc, but it’s far more doable than a flight across the water.
    Jane’s comments about what people say (“it ruined my trip”) are spot-on. I can’t imagine how that must feel to those who stepped up and into the role. In addition, the understudy may be the next star, and you’ll have seen them before they were famous. I didn’t see Kyle as Valjean, but I did see and meet him on his first night on Broadway, and it was clear even in his small role that he would have been a world-wide presence. I saw Joe Spieldenner as Javert, and had a nice conversation with him afterward. I’ll follow him around now; he’s terrific.
    I think people need to lose their sense of entitlement. As you say, the ticket pays for the show, not the star. If you want to see Alfie and no other, I’d suggest buying a ticket to a concert.

  3. Sue Redfern

    I travelled from the UK absolutely to see Alfie in my favourite musical, was lucky enough to see him four times. Would i have been heartbroken if he was sick? Of course I would, but that wouldn’t mean I wouldn’t appreciate the understudy or the rest of that fabulous cast. As for being angry he was sick, I would be more concerned for his health and welfare than my disappointment. At the end of the day the show is Les Mis not Alfie Boe.

  4. Sherri Marino

    Greetings from Florida
    I had wanted to see Alfie since the 25th Anniversary show. The DVD has been in my player and played continually. So when the announcement that he was coming to this side of the pond, my decision was made! I had already told hubby if he ever comes to the US I have to see him.
    So from my view, I traveled and planned on seeing Alfie! I made sure to check his travel/ and rest dates but 2 weeks before our trip he fell ill. Although he was back in time for my visit, I will tell you my thoughts of traveling to NY, hotel, tickets etc and then not seeing him would have been quite disappointing. It was one of the things on my bucket list.
    I totally understand people who did travel to see him and a last minute change was made and they missed the opportunity to see Alfie. But as you said his dates are posted well in advance. But a last minute illness cannot be helped.
    I guess depending on the show, I always see a show for the show. This is the only one that I booked based on the who was starring in it. Alfie should feel quite honored as I am sure I am not the only one. Cheers to you all and Merry Christmas from sunny Ft. Lauderdale. I love reading you blog.


  5. Cecelia

    Sometimes I think fans forget that the objects of our affections are mere human! We expect to see them on demand, and if we book a ticket we certainly expect them to be there. No excuses! Great subject, by the way, Jane. A musical is made up of many parts and many people and some of the understudies are as talented as the stars. I’ve gone to see Les Mis many times for the show itself. It’s how I discovered Alfie in the first place, for goodness sake. And now it’s the thought of seeing Alfie in Les Mis that has driven us in droves across the Atlantic. And I’ve got to say that with or without a six pack, he is gloriously wonderful in the role. BUT we go in the “hope”, not the guarantee that Alfie will be in the show. As with all aspects of life, things can go wrong. And how can we blame the actor if he’s not well? But sometime people do. It’s an expensive disappointment after all. I guess we all need to remind ourselves just how amazing the whole show is and open ourselves to experiencing a new cast member, a new interpretation, and maybe, just maybe a future Alfie.

  6. Cathy

    Totally agree with you, Jane. I went to see Alfie in NYC in September and booked that month because I remember all the hand-wringing when he performed in London and was sick, so I thought I’d catch him early. Even still, he was sick the day before my show and the day after. I was just lucky. Broadway has to be an incredible grind and I am sure only those with iron constitutions endure it without getting sick often. Alfie is not one of those and being an opera singer, I’m sure he is even more careful of his voice. I would have been sad if we had wasted our money- a one night stay with plane fare cost us about $1000.00 but at the same time, I don’t think I would have been angry. People get sick and you can’t take it personally. If you can’t look at the experience philosophically, then you really should think hard about making plans. NYC should be the destination for most people and not just Alfie.

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