Starry, Starry Night 2.0.

There has been a lot of chatter about stars in shows these days, including this recent article from The Hollywood Reporter that features a few quotes from me.

While I was being interviewed, I remembered a blog I wrote back in 2007 (!)  called “Starry, Starry Night,” that took a look at the 10 longest running Broadway shows of all time and the people that were in them.

Since five years have passed since that blog (!!), I decided I should take another look at that list of 10 shows to see if anything had changed in my conclusion.

The following is a list of the 10 Longest Runnings Shows on Broadway:

1.  The Phantom of the Opera
2.  Cats
3.  Les Miserables
4.  Chicago
5.  A Chorus Line
6.  The Lion King
7.  Oh Calcutta
8.  Beauty and the Beast
9.  Rent
10.  Mamma Mia!

What changed in the last five years?  Chicago shot up from 8 to 4, and look out Les Mis because Chi-Town is hot-cha-cha on your tail to take over the the 3rd spot in less than a year.  Miss Saigon got bumped off the list for Mamma Mia! and Lion King went from 10 to 6, and will soon to take A Chorus Line down a peg.

What didn’t change?  Well, the point of my blog five years ago, that’s what.  In fact, I’m just going to repeat it verbatim, because I still believe in it 101%.

Ready?  Here goes!  (I’m making that little Wayne’s World doodle-deedle sound and moving my hands up and down now as we go back in time.)

– – – – –

“What do 9 of these 10 shows have in common?

Not one of them opened with a Star.

Make the show the Star.  That’s the key to a long runner.  In a new show, stars are nothing but expensive insurance policies for those who lack the confidence in their own material.  Stars make us lazy.  And they ask for crazy things like special luxury wallpaper (true story).

And once you go Star, you can never go back.  Save the Stars for the revivals (like the 1 out of the 10 above) because they need them.

Now, look back at that list . . . how many musical theater Stars were born from the shows above?  I count at least as many as there are shows on that list.

Make Stars, don’t count on them.” (!!!)


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  • That list is a bit scary in that it makes those shows “commodities” that run like a battery. BUT would hello Dolly exist without Carol Channing, FUNNY GIRL without Barbara Steisand, Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence in West Side Story, Robert Goulet or Richard Burton in CAMELOT, Angela Landsbury in MAME ?

    Those shows seem to be an inversion of succcess, not a new norm. They seem like mass productions from a factory–that lose that ‘star” quality in the process.
    There is room for both, but are stars “useless” on Broadway ?

    • bob hawk says:

      HELLO, DOLLY would have existed if Ethel Merman (their original choice) had opened it. (She did eventually play it.) But I do feel that Channing did give it a special glow in launching a run that eventually accommodated many stars. I cannot imagine FUNNY GIRL opening (at that point in time) with anyone but Streisand. Neither Lerry Kert nor Carol Lawrence were stars when WSS opened, and their parts could have been played by any number of equally unknowns. (Robbins was the primary “star” of WSS, with a little help from Lenny B. :=) Julie Andrews (coming off BOY FRIEND and MY FAIR LADY) plus Burton were the stars of CAMELOT, the show in which Goulet was “discovered.” And Lansbury, like Channing, added her special star glow to MAME (which she had already evidenced, however briefly, in ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, although it was more dazzle than glow in the latter).

      P.S. to Ken: what show of the ten you named had a real star (going in, I mean)? I don’t think that either Michael Crawford or Betty Buckley were established box office stars before PHANTOM or CATS opened. CHICAGO’s Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking were just as big — for NY audiences, at least — as Crawford and Buckley, don’t you think?

  • Ren Lexander says:

    Very very interesting, Ken, thank you.
    The same could be said to be true of a lot of the big movie franchises and films of all time: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indian Jones (originally they wanted Tom Selleck), Titanic, Avatar, Lord of the Rings…
    George Lucas described having to cast big-name stars in films in the same sort of way – that it showed a lack of confidence in the film itself.
    Very often it’s the film that makes the star. Perhaps that’s often true on Broadway also.
    Worthy of contemplation.

  • Frayne says:

    And it looks like the great musical “Bombshell” on “Smash” will be succeeding in much the same starless way… at least on the TV show. But if “Bombshell” gets produced on Broadway (and I really hope it does!), I wonder if they will be able to get away with not casting the TV stars who’ve made it such a great stage show in advance!

  • Wayne Gurley says:

    It seems to me that most of these shows had what you might call “hidden star power” behind them, if not a star actually on the stage. For example, by the time Phantom and Cats went up, Andrew Lloyd Weber was a household name as the result of Superstar and Evita. Chicago had Kander and Ebb behind the music, and Bob Fosse writing the book; Chorus Line had Marvin Hamlisch as its musical composer; Lion King and Beauty and the Beast were Disney machines; Oh Calcutta had sex and nudity as its appeal; Rent had the topic of HIV/AIDS and a writer who died shortly before it opened; and Mamma Mia had the built-in appeal of Abba’s music. Lots of star power in these shows without a star in the leading roles.

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