Question: What are your thoughts on West End performers appearing on talent shows such as ‘The Voice’ or celebrities starring in musicals. ?
Answer: The West End is made up of three types of people:
Celebrities: These will put bums on seats and ensure the maximum ticket price can be charged for the show. The trained actors in that show may be grateful for celebrities, as it can make the difference between them staying in a job for longer or not.
People from TV talent shows: Like celebrities, these people will be the main reason a lot of people book to see a show. They may not command a premium ticket price but they will draw in the crowds. If Honey G was cast in a show, I guarantee people would book to see it because of her. These people can bring in a new generation of theatre audience members and be the starting point for some people’s love of theatre. If it gets people in to the theatre and makes them love it then that’s a good thing.
Trained Theatre Performers: These are the people who will hold a show together. They have had years of training on how to do everything you would expect in a theatre show. They can project their voices (where some celebrities can’t) and most importantly they can sustain performing eight shows a week which sadly many celebrities can’t. Trained performers are the most important people that work in theatre and are there to pick up the slack and make the show look great.
If a West End performer wants to try their luck by appearing on a TV show and hopefully do well and get bumped up the food chain from ‘Theatre Performer’ to ‘TV Talent Show Performer’ then why not let them. It may not work as we have seen with the likes of Kerry Ellis who performed on The Voice in 2012 and failed to make any of the judges turn around for her. Kerry is one of theatre’s leading ladies and has a brilliant voice with that special Elphaba range. However, the song that she sang ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ showcased nothing special about her vocal range and failed to impress any of the judges. Whether or not she chose to sing that song, or if the producers told her to sing it I don’t know (I’m guessing the latter) but thankfully appearing on the show didn’t have a negative affect on her career. One other point worth remembering is that Kerry Ellis got her big break when she was understudying ‘celebrity’ Martine McCutcheon in My Fairy Lady in the West End. Kerry performed the role many times (remember what I said about celebrities not being able to sustain eight shows a week) and it was at one of these shows, Queen guitarist Brian May, saw her perform and cast her in his new show We Will Rock You which spring-boarded her career).
At the end of the day, if people with no training at all can appear on TV talent shows to win a place in a West End show, then why can’t trained performers audition on similar TV talent shows? You could argue that trained performers are taking the opportunities from regular people because they have more experience in what they are doing. But equally, untrained people are taking the stage roles that a million actors spent years training to be able to do.
It’s a dog eat dog world out there. Whether it is a celebrity performing in the West End or a trained theatre performer auditioning for a TV talent show, there is a place for everyone. May the best performer win.