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Last month, I decided I was long overdue for a New York visit, having not seen a Broadway show since my freshman year. I was there three days total and planned on seeing at least two shows during that time frame. Couldn’t waste a minute, of course. I have a soft spot for musicals, so I had very ambitiously set my sights on Once, but soon realized that was nothing but a pipe dream after strolling into the box office an hour before it opened and seeing the line of a hundred people camped out in front of the theatre. Needless to say, things did not quite work out as planned, but I did manage to see both Grace and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof during my stay.
I saw Grace first. I had actually heard nothing about the show prior to arriving, only needing to be told that Paul Rudd was starring in it to become invested. It turned out that Ed Asner was also in the cast, which I imagine brought in audiences too, though admittedly, I’m in the wrong generation to appreciate that fact. Now, I’ve been a Paul Rudd fan for awhile now, so I was incredibly excited, squirming in my seat as the lights went down. And the piece began with this really unique scene performed in reverse, which set the bar quite high. Unfortunately, it was all downhill after that. I hate to be so negative, but I was very disappointed with what I had seen. The book was weak, Ed Asner seemed to have no idea what he was doing, and even Paul’s vibrance couldn’t make the plot line appealing. Save for the weird, but brilliant backwards movement thrown haphazardly throughout the piece, I did not enjoy the show.
I had high hopes for my second attempt, since I’ve always enjoyed Tennessee Williams and I’d heard pretty good things about the show thus far, mostly revolving around Scarlett Johansson’s performance. We had to wait for ages to get student rush tickets, but ended up with fairly good seats. Coming back after lunch, we were greeted with another huge line, this time filled with angry theatre-goers, demanding their money back, as Scarlett Johansson was not going to performing, sending her no-name understudy on instead. My friend and I had a moment of disappointment, but were not going to give up the chance to see a Broadway play, especially with it being my last day in New York, so we went in, moved up about five rows where no one was sitting, and enjoyed the show immensely. The show was absolutely stunning, particularly aesthetically, with the most amazing scenic design and soundscape I’d ever seen and heard, but also in the performances, specifically that given by the understudy in her Broadway debut.
It was during this trip that I realized how many movie stars are gracing the Broadway stage. Nearly every theatre was boasting their famous leads, with Ricky Martin in Evita, Katie Holmes in Dead Accounts, Nick Jonas in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Nicole Kidman in Sweet Bird of Youth, Andrew Garfield in Death of a Salesman, Raven Simone in Sister Act, Eric MacCormack in The Best Man; the list goes on and on. Why is this happening? It cannot possibly be because there are not enough Broadway actors who are able and willing to fill these roles. I do not doubt the talent of these film actors, but I also do not doubt that their talent is not what gets them these opportunities. Because the show I saw without star power was undeniably better than the show with the big names. And that cannot simply be a coincidence.
What it comes down to is that audiences want to see celebrities. Broadway shows aren’t enough of a draw anymore unless they are full of famous names. And that’s incredibly disheartening. Maggie the Cat is one of the most challenging, iconic roles available in the theatre, and there are hundreds of brilliant actresses, thousands even, who could do it justice. But it goes to Scarlett because of her name. And I think that’s disappointing. I believe that film actors are just as important to the entertainment industry, and I think many of these big names are incredibly talented individuals, but I also believe talented stage actors are not being seen because of this new fad. Perhaps theatre of the people over theatre of the elite should apply to the actors as well. I am simply one opinion, but I’d love to spread the wealth.