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.
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 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 and 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.
This issue has been highlighted lately due to Alfie Boe's run in 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,where you sit in this discussion may well depend on where you are travelling fronm to see a show. 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.
Summing up, if you're planning a trip to a musical just for the cast or the star performer, you may well be setting yourself up for disappointment; although of course, you could also have one of your most memorable theatre going experiences ever! Is it worth the risk? I'm pretty sure most of us would say yes.
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