Stunt Casting: Good or Bad?

September 20, 2020

Casting celebrities / non theatre actors in lead roles of a West End / Broadway musical is becoming more and more of a common occurrence and over the past few years it's become quite a controversial topic. There's so much to say on this so that's what this weeks post is all about. This post is also a collaboration with the lovely Grace Elaine Brown from the blog Sing With Grace. You can read her post here.

If you don't know, stunt casting is where the producer / creative team of a musical / play casts a famous actor or other celebrity in a their show in order to publicise or promote it, to hopefully bring in more audiences members.

Stunt casting has become very popular over the last few years, especially for shows like Waitress, Mean Girls etc. It's become attached with negative connotations because there has been so many times where it's not necessarily gone according to plan. There have been a few situations in theatre when the celebrity has been cast purely for their name rather than their talent, and therefore they tend to stick out as the weak link among the cast. Situations like this can be quite frustrating for the theatre industry as it takes away opportunities for many musical theatre performers like recent graduates and young performers. It can be really noticeable when someone on the stage doesn’t really have the skills or training required to be there. This then can make the show suffer in its storytelling and can be especially annoying for anyone who is more of a fan of the show itself rather than it's cast. An example of this would be Cameron Dallas in Mean Girls. I didn't see him in the show myself but if you're around the same age as me or a big theatre fan, you'll have probably heard a few audios and seen some bootlegs that have been floating around. No hate to him at all I'm sure he worked extremely hard, however I personally don't think his vocal ability was strong enough for the role of Aaron.

Another issue with stunt casting a celebrity is when they have time off or a sick day and a cover or understudy goes on, you get the 'Karens' of the audience who feel the need to complain. This is a whole other topic in itself but I think it's incredibly disrespectful when an audience member complains when they didn't get to see the person they came for. I understand it's disappointing when you don't end up seeing someone in a show when you bought a ticket specifically to see them, however, the performer covering for them would not be there if they weren't able to give a convincing and incredible performance, and in situations like stunt casting, there are occasions when they are arguably better. Whenever I see a show and a cover or swing is on, I'm secretly screaming with joy on the inside as I absolutely love seeing different interpretations of a role, and I have so much respect for the hard work understudies put in. Stunt casting can make situations like this even worse, creating a negative atmosphere.

A further issue I have with stunt casting, is when an extremely talented musical theatre actor is dropped from their role for a while in order to bring a celebrity in. It's never the celebrity's fault, but it's so heart-breaking to see a performer loose their role and therefore their job just to bring in someone more well known.

That all being sad, another thing I absolutely hate is when people automatically assume that the celebrity being cast isn't going to be good in their role. This is certainly not the case. Sometimes when a TV actor is cast in a musical, many people questions whether or not they can sing and / or dance. However, if the actor in question has been to drama school, it's more than likely that they have been trained in both singing and dancing too, even if their main focus is acting. When discussing stunt casting, I always end up talking about Nick Jonas in the role of Marius in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert. Many are quick to argue that he was cast for his name, however Nick Jonas is a singer and an actor, and those are the skills needed to be part of a show like Les Mis. I personally really enjoyed his performance and thought he did a wonderful job, especially being only 17 at the time. 

What really baffles me however, is people arguing that musical theatre performers are being stunt cast. For example, when Carrie Hope Fletcher was cast in Heathers, people were quick to say that she had been cast purely for her name rather than her talent. This couldn't be further from the truth as Carrie is a musical theatre performer and has been since she was young. Yes she is a big name on YouTube and other fields, but she has been in many, many shows and if you've seen her perform before, you'll know she's extremely talented. Another example of false stunt casting is Alfie Ball and Michael Ball appearing in the Les Mis Staged Concert last year. Of course they have become big names on TV and other areas and would have definitely brought more audience members in, however they are both pretty much famous for being in Les Mis, and for being a musical theatre double act. 

Overall, I think I have very conflicting opinions on the topic of stunt casting. I get it. I get that it's a business move and that if producers have the chance to get some well known that is for sure going to sell more tickets, they're of course going to do it. It's just a huge bonus if that person can play the part extremely well. I honestly think stunt casting is quite a clever move when the person being cast is right for the role and can do the job. It's less stunt casting more clever casting, and a great move in order to bring more promotion to the show. I believe it becomes stunt casting when a show unfortunately suffers in order to bring a big name in who isn't necessarily right for the role. 

I'd love to hear you're opinions on stunt casting so do let me know if you have any other opinions.

Stay safe.

Mia x

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