WHAT’S in a name? Well, if it’s on a poster, it seems, quite a lot.
A tweet from a Twitter follower who had been to see Hairspray last week, got me thinking about this. He’d headed along to an early performance of the smash hit musical, currently running at The Playhouse, only to be met with the news that a number of understudies would be performing. Worse still, Mark Benton, in the starring role of Edna Turnblad, wouldn’t be appearing. Commitments on Strictly Come Dancing meant he would not take to the stage until the press night later in the week.
Cue one unhappy theatre-goer.
So what could he have done? Well, not much it seems. There’s an old rule of thumb that dictates, if an actor’s name appears above the title of a show, then you are, in essence, paying to see the performer. If the title takes prominence, you’re primarily paying to see the show.
On New York’s Broadway, for example, if the name above the title fails to show for whatever reason, refunds are issued. I’m sure it’s the same on the West End. Personally, with the odd rare exception, I don’t mind watching under-studies.
On the whole, you get a better show.
Instead of the ‘celebrity’ name going through the motions on autopilot, which is all too often (but not always) the case, you get someone giving it 110 per cent... they have more to prove.
That said, seldom these days will you see an actor’s name above the title of a show. The producer’s maybe, or even the writer’s - The Rocky Horror Show has long been billed as Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show for example, not that we’d expect Richard to be at every performance.
But then, no star billing above the title keeps things simple for producers...