New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Arts Issue: Celebrities make for better theater-going experience


Broadway bombards audiences with display after display of Hollywood celebrities taking on theater’s most prestigious roles. There is an easy case in favor of casting celebrities in Broadway shows rather than traditional stage actors — multiple facets justify the increasing popularity of celebrity-led Broadway shows, including economic and artistic concerns.

Not every show can be a blockbuster like “Wicked” or “The Lion King,” both of which are wildly successful tourist attractions. People across the globe make a beeline for Broadway when they visit New York because these theater productions are accessible and high-quality.

However, the loftier, more profound and serious plays will not garner that sort of attraction, but they still need to provide for their expenses. With no guarantee that audiences will come out to sit through a play about the existential musings of two old men, no matter how earnest or well-produced it is, it helps to have star power to support that insurance. Thank goodness for Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, who starred in this season’s avant-garde “Waiting For Godot.”

Celebrity is the leading attribute to a film’s marketability. It is not particularly odd to see a movie simply because James Franco takes part in it, so why should this year’s “Of Mice and Men” on Broadway, which stars Franco alongside Irish heartthrob Chris O’Dowd, be any different?

If star casting provides financial stability, it also allows Broadway productions to take bigger artistic risks. “The Testament of Mary,” starring Fiona Shaw of “Harry Potter” and “True Blood,” was an unorthodox, overtly unnerving one-woman show typical of Off Broadway’s less commercial theater market. Yet there it was, in blinding brilliance, at the prestigious Walter Kerr Theater.

No matter the success of a celebrity on the silver screen, acting on Broadway is not merely a hobby to dabble in between films — it is a venue in which actors can inhabit unfamiliar territories. It is fully within the film actor’s creative abilities to star in a Broadway production.

Zachary Quinto of “Star Trek” starred in “The Glass Menagerie” this past fall and winter, and not only were there no traces of his celebrity persona, but he demonstrated an impressive ability to animate his character.

Many film actors, including McKellan, Shaw and even Meryl Streep, started their careers on the stage — for such celebrities, a turn on Broadway is simply a return to their thespian roots. Artists from film, television and music have every right to participate in the Broadway culture, and theatergoers’ experiences are made all the better thanks to them.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 10 print edition. Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a staff writer. Email him at [email protected].

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