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Broadway producer Sean Patrick Flahaven: ‘Hamilton proves you don’t need star casting’

Sean Flahaven Sean Patrick Flahaven
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Hamilton proves that star casting in musicals is not necessary, according to Broadway producer Sean Patrick Flahaven.

Speaking at a panel on audience development as part of the 2017 UK Musical Theatre Conference, Flahaven, who produced the cast recording of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical, said: “Hamilton could not have happened in the way that it did if In the Heights had not happened first, gently educating the audience that it’s okay when you see that most of the people are brown, and it’s okay when they rap sometimes.”

He added: “The success of Hamilton has certainly helped broaden people’s view of how casting and audience development work because everyone wants to see it.”

Responding to a question on the necessity of casting big names in productions of musicals, he insisted that what mattered is a show’s quality.

He added: “I am yet to encounter a show that’s really great that hasn’t had a production. It doesn’t mean it’s instant, and it doesn’t mean it’s going to make a fortune, but I don’t know of any really great shows that haven’t been produced at all.”

Dawn Farrow, who runs marketing agency Boom Ents, backed up Flahaven’s comments. She said: “There are not in our lifetime going to be many new Boublil and Schonbergs. This is not an opportunity to get rich quick. Anyone who suggests that the shortcut is to get a star – that’s just lazy.”

However, producer Paul Taylor-Mills, who runs the newly opened musical theatre venue the Other Palace in London, said star casting could be useful.

Taylor-Mills said: “Don’t be afraid of that seal of approval from a star. I think that’s fine. We had some very posh, by which I mean famous, people attached to The Wild Party and it just didn’t resonate. It felt so far away from that show. Ultimately we went with a really credible and brilliantly talented musical theatre cast. That might mean it was harder to sell tickets, but you’ve always got to do what is right for the show.”

Flahaven decried the lack of musical theatre training schemes in the UK, saying that compared to the US “there’s only the beginnings of programmes and workshops here. If I were looking at most of the new British musicals that I’ve seen in the last 10 or 15 years, mostly it’s lack of craft and people haven’t had enough training in that weird, specific world.”

He also criticised a “general tweeness” in a lot of unproduced British musicals “that marks it as generic British, just as the general ‘gee, how hard it is to be a 20-something in New York City’ marks terrible American musicals. Rent covered that, now it’s done.”

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