Alongside the score and the book, a show’s cast are a big part of the excitement of the theatre-going experience. Famous names (from both stage and screen) will always draw in the crowds, while established West End performers bring their fan bases with them from show to show and talented newcomers attract new people to form one.
A cast change is always big news in theatre circles. Yesterday, social networking sites were abuzz with talk following the cast announcement regarding the role of Valjean in the West End production of Les Miserables. Ramin Karimloo, who has been playing musical theatre’s most famous ex-convict since 29th November 2011, was due to leave the show on 3rd March 2012 but has now extended his run so that he finishes up on 31st March 2012. Officially confirming what was first reported here in January, Barcelona’s current Valjean Geronimo Rauch makes his West End debut in the role here on 18th June 2012. David Shannon, who has previously played the part, covers from 3rd April 2012 – 16th June 2012.
Les Miserables has had quite a high turnover rate of Valjean’s in this past year if you date back to the start of Alfie Boe’s run (and include alternate Jonathan Williams as well). Ramin Karimloo, who took over from Boe, was initially contracted to perform the role for a three-month period anyway; then with Shannon only there for a few months before handing the reins over to Rauch – that makes three Valjeans in the first six months of 2012 alone. Is this kind of regular cast change a good thing or not though?
The obvious disadvantage to having such a high number of actors passing through in such a short space of time is that it doesn’t always allow for adequate development in the role. Whether originating a role or taking on a well-worn one, an actor will always approach it from their own unique angle; their performance is all about perspective and imagination. This means that there is always a settling-in period where the performance can often change from night to night as the actor tries out what works and what doesn’t. If that actor is therefore only in the role for two or three months, they’ve probably only really become comfortable and familiar enough with the character when it’s time for them to leave it behind. In terms of the audience, some find this ‘swinging-door’ policy off-putting while others prefer it: it’s a matter of personal preference. The alternative to a high turnover of actors is having one actor remain in a role for an extended length of time, or having the same small group pass it back and forth to one another. I’ve heard theatre-goers complain that having an actor stay in the same (lead) role for more than that initial one year period can make a show feel stale, as can having the same faces regularly revisit it. They’ve also complained about how this takes away opportunities for fresh, new talent.
From this point of view, perhaps this is where such short stays can be a good thing? For the audience, all these different interpretations offer a new experience of an old favourite with every cast change. I myself like to see what a new actor can bring to a role, although I also like to see them have enough time to find it. It’s also very nice for those financially involved with the show, as cast changes always carry a guaranteed increase in ticket sales. What about the cast members themselves though? If each cast change brings money and audiences, it also brings rehearsal time. Weeks of running through the show with the incoming actor/actors during the day and performing it in full at night is physically draining – one can only imagine the toll that near-constant rehearsals take on them.
I’m not here to condemn or extol excessive cast changes: as with most things in life, it has both positives and negatives attached to it. At the end of the day, whether one outweighs the other or not is an individual decision.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Wednesday 15th February 2012