BLOG: Do you need to be a ‘good actor’ to be in a Musical?

Yesterday, TV soap actor Ben Freeman said online “you don’t need to be that good an actor to be in a musical”, which has caused understandable upset amongst theatre actors who have spent years training and honing their craft. Ben is best known for his role in Emmerdale but has appeared in several West End stage shows, including Wicked and The Rocky Horror Show.

After this comment was made yesterday, I was asked for my opinion on the matter, “is a soap actor qualified to burn all the theatrical bridges behind him insulting hard working West End actors?”

I’ve written about ‘celebrity casting’ several times before and as much as trained theatre actors like to say that people with little or no theatre training shouldn’t be cast in shows, it is sometimes necessary to help a show succeed. A ‘star’ name on the billing of a musical, can help sell tickets and if the theatre is full, the other actors can feel secure in their job. Without a star name, sadly some shows can struggle to sell tickets which can lead to early closure, putting actors out of work. It’s sad that this is the case but celebrity casting is needed at times. But whether they are any good is up for debate.

Yesterday, when all of this was happening on social media, I was at the theatre watching new cast members in both Wicked and Kinky Boots. Alice Fearn (who recently took over the lead role of Elphaba in Wicked after being promoted from Understudy) and Verity Rushworth (also known for appearing in the TV soap Emmerdale) who has recently joined the cast of Kinky Boots as factory worker Lauren. Both of these women, playing roles I have seen performed by many different actors in the past, gave career defining performances and are shining examples of how being a good actor can really make all the difference in musical theatre.

It doesn’t matter if you started out on TV or have always been in theatre, if an actor can prove themselves worthy of being on stage then they deserve to be there. Those that don’t prove themselves can hopefully at least sell a few tickets. First images of X Factor judge Louis Walsh have been released this morning of him appearing in the Christmas production of Nativity! The Musical in London. A questionable casting choice yes, but I know many people will pack out the auditorium just to see him on stage and so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt before I judge him.

So no, I guess you don’t need to be ‘that good an actor’ in order to be in a Musical’. But it’s the ones that ARE brilliant at what they do that will be remembered for ever and go on to achieve the awards and success they deserve. Because a mediocre actor that has been on television might get cast in a show to sell tickets to people that may remember them from being on TV once, but they are the ones that will always be known as the one who was famous for a short period of time. The true musical theatre actors will go down in the history books as true examples of why musical theatre is such an incredible thing.

Photo: Jay Brooks