Flashback to the late eighties and early nineties, British musical theatre stars are truly being born. The industry is abuzz with excitement for performers like Michael Ball, Sarah Brightman and Ruthie Henshall.
Even now, 20-odd years later we still celebrate and recognise these performers. But, in Britain we are no longer creating musical theatre stars that are propelled into the limelight and public understanding in the same way. Names like Louise Dearman, Oliver Tompsett and Michael Xavier hold gravitas in the industry but they haven’t broken into the public stratosphere and become household names.
In the West End, we can currently see some of our favorites from: X Factor, So You Think You Can Dance and a score of Marias/Josephs/Nancys/Dorothys from musical theatre reality TV programmes as well as soap opera actors, pop artists and comedians.
There is a huge amount of advertising that highlights these celebrity cast members in an attempt to draw the public in and a strong belief that the public wants to be in close proximity to these people, to see someone that they already know and trust.
Broadway still creates stars
However, this isn’t really the case for our Broadway counterparts. Broadway still creates stars. Performers like Idina Menzel, Aaron Tveit, Kristin Chenoweth, Andrew Rannells, Patina Miller and Gavin Creel (currently starring in the West End’s Book of Mormon) are stars and celebrities in their own right. And their star status is not limited just to America either.
This is not to dismiss the talent in the West End, by any means, or the talent of these celebrity performers. I would purely like to highlight that while stars are created on Broadway the West End seems to borrow celebrities from other mediums, often leaving our performers feeling the need to gain fame in other ways to be taken seriously or to have a career outside of the theatre.
This season of The Voice for instance saw numerous West End performers audition, most notably Liam Tamne and Ricardo Afonso, and many people in the industry were very shocked when one of our few modern, British musical theatre stars didn’t make it through the blind auditions last year.
We are a country with a rich theatrical past but it currently feels like our performers are being slightly underestimated across many different mediums. I love finding out that the funny guy from the telly can belt a top E and that performers are truly multi-faceted but there’s a tendency in Britain to undervalue ourselves.
Let’s stop limiting our ideas and pigeonholing our performers. It’s time for the return of the musical theatre performer who can crossover to television and film and still be known positively for their theatrical work.
It’s time for actors to feel more comfortable expanding their horizons and showcasing their talents in musical theatre. Truly though, it’s time for musical theatre to once again create West End stars.