Does the West End still create stars?

Ryan trained at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and has worked as a performer with such companies as the BBC, the Soho Theatre and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.
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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.

[pullquote] Broadway still creates stars[/pullquote]

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.


  1. The sad fact is that the West End is suffering from the same malaise that can be found all over; the fact that we live in mediocre times.The days of the exciting,glamorous, and most all,really talented stars have gone.Sorry to be so negative but ’tis so.

  2. No. In fact there are countless names and faces that have and never will reach “stardom” if they stay put in West End, no matter the content. The problem lies in audiences reached. If West End shows were put on Youtube and social media perhaps more audiences could catch performances. It’s not the same anymore. Moreover, I would suspect the theatre set who hang with West End luvvies don’t look for “stardom”.

  3. I agree with this article so much, performers in the West End are not getting the attention they deserve. We have many West End stars but the West End I feel is being ‘dumbed down’ with the use of the celebrity casting. I personally believe that the only West End star that has come close, if not is, a house hold name to some extent of recent years is Ramin Karimloo of whom has had tremendous success since the start of his early career.

  4. If there is ANY blame to be placed at the feet of this WEST END Malaise then it HAS to be at the feet of WEST END CASTING DIRECTORS! From ridiculous stunt casting in CHICAGO to private auditions for Celebrities for shows such as A CHORUS LINE and SHREK, there is absolutely no loyalty to the hard working talented Musical Theatre performers who have not only made London Theatre what it is, but have paved the way for new, young and exciting talent. And what is that talent offered? An understudy role to a mediocre, washed up pop star, ex band member or struggling presenter. There would be picket lines on Broadway… and rightly so. Shame on you all.

  5. I think the other big factor in the change in creation of musical theatre stars actually began when musicals themselves became the brand. Once a poster might have named a big star name now it is the show itself that’s star. This was the result of the eighties musical industry becoming a global enterprise first with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh creating carbon copies of their productions with mirrored marketing and positioning them around the world. This was a model which in the early nineties was then adopted by Disney and others producing companies. Whilst certainly Broadway has created stars and not all of them through reality TV musical competitions some of these names listed have also enjoyed a subsequent TV profile enhancing their own continued profile. That said I think it would still be limited in the number of people asked in New York or London where these long running shows such as Wicked, Lion King, Spiderman and even Phantom of Les Miserables (or elsewhere in the world where they are currently playing) who could name the current leads. Obviously some shows benefit and become driven by name in the lead casting and are needed as much as the brand for example currently Jane Lynch in Annie on Broadway or the rotating celebrity casting of Chicago and even Oliver! But in the first two cases this occurred at the productions first cast changes (of whom both original casts were seasoned Broadway musical actors) and needed to retain a continued momentum at the box office alongside becoming a popular tourist ticket.

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