Glenn Close out? “No refunds for you!”

We had one of those terrific stories about an understudy blowing the roof off the joint a few weeks ago, when relative unknown but West End vet, Ria Jones, subbed in for a sickly Glenn Close in the recently opened Sunset Boulevard at the English National Opera.

Like something out of a musical itself, when the rep for the Opera dramatically took to the stage to tell the crowd that Ms. Close would be sick, there were boos and people literally screaming, “Give us our money back!”

Of course, Ms. Jones was within earshot of every boo and jeer and then had to step out on the stage and perform one of the most demanding roles written for a woman in the last couple of decades.

And by the end of the night, she won over the crowd and got a rapturous ovation.

I wish I could say the same for the Opera.

As you can read here, apparently the Opera refused to allow anyone to get a refund despite Ms. Close not being in.

Honestly, I was shocked.

Listen, I get the “no refund” thing when the artist that is absent is not a “star” or more specifically, not part of the marketing package for the show (even though, as we proved in this study years ago, any actor being absent lessens the experience for our audience).

But to not honor a refund when Glenn can’t perform, when she was one of the primary reasons for people to see the show?

I’m glad it worked out that night and everyone was happy with the understudy.

Decisions like that may work in the short term, but they definitely won’t in the long term.  Theater tickets are expensive.  Super expensive.  And the consumer already takes a lot of risk by buying the big ticket . . . not knowing if they’ll even like the show or not.  But to bait-and-switch them, even though illness is beyond our control, is a sure way to get them to not take that risk in the future.

If you paid $150 for a ticket to see a star and they didn’t appear, wouldn’t you think twice about paying that amount next time?

You know what you might do instead?

Watch Netflix.  Stars can’t call out of that.

 

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Comments
  • Glenn says:

    I think in any business you have to maintain policy and be flexible when customers become demanding.

    In the world of theater, your business is the production. If the product isn’t good, it won’t matter what you’re marketing scheme is. I’d argue that if anyone truly wanted a refund then you do that before curtain. But that should be the case for any refund for any reason. Once curtain is up, however, you’re in.

    Theater is obviously a different sort of business, and customers should understand the variables in the product. Do I get a refund if I don’t like the production; if it’s not as good as the review? Can I get a partial refund for every line dropped or missed cue?

    Should patrons have been given an opportunity for a refund due to the headliner being ill? Absolutely. But it should have been announced before the house was even opened. Refunds at the interval? Nope

  • Kevin says:

    I find it difficult to see a theatrical producer, one who has had such success, tell his readers to stay home and watch Netflix instead of investing in a night of theatre for any reason at all. Isn’t it your job to hire someone or to make sure the person hired to understudy a celebrity who has been cast as the draw for a show can deliver just as good a performance as their peer?

    Why not just shut the show down for a night if you’re willing to issue refunds?

  • Peter Mennie says:

    Announce it in the lobby before the show and then allow patrons to get a refund if they wish although I personally feel that the show is ‘the thing’, not the star. I would stay and see the show regardless.

  • See, that’s what’s wrong with theatre today – it’s now a business, casting a recognized star from film/TV who can drive ticket sales and make the show money. Decades ago, it was the SHOW they bought tickets for, not the star – shows cast with relative unknowns who rose to the occasion, gave a great performance, and in doing so, became a star. I had this same discussion with Shirley Jones recently, who lamented this change as well. She said a young Shirley Jones wouldn’t stand a chance at being cast in a show these days – one already has to be a name. That said, I do realize that Glenn Close is a tremendous star on both stage and screen, but people shouldn’t demand a refund just because she was ill that night. I missed seeing Angela Lansbury in “A Little Night Music” when she was ill that night, but I didn’t demand a refund – her understudy was amazing.

  • I remember going to see Matthew Broderick in H2$ and he was out that night and an understudy was going on. Turns out it wasn’t an understudy – it was the guy who was taking over for him – John Stamos. He wasn’t Matthew, who we had wanted to see – but he was terrific and I sure never wanted my money back!

  • Bob Canning says:

    Oh, how bad I feel for Ria Jones having to hear “every boo and jeer.” I assume it was Donald Trump in the audience.

    • Rich Mc says:

      Here’s the sad truth: In today’s theater market ticket pricing often reflects the presence of big-name stars. As others have pointed out, many theater goers, rightly or wrongly, equate the value of their theater experience with the Star’s appearance; much of this amounts to post- theater ‘bragging rights’ and has little to do with the actual quality of performance, vis a vis that of a substitute actor. However, the market speaks loudly and this demand must be addressed via an optional refund policy, as Ken correctly pointed out. Absent such a policy, segments of theater goers will learn to discount this ‘star substitution’ possibility from their ticket pricing, and opt to see another show.

  • Janis says:

    A show that has to rely on a star to sell tickets is not worth the price of the ticket anyway.
    Anyone foolish enough to buy that ticket deserves a refund and to be banned from theatre.
    If theatre continues to take the easy way out with ‘revivals’ a.k.a. ‘reruns,’ ‘known’ a.k.a. ‘has been’ stars, and ‘Hollywoid sensation’ a.k.a. ‘insensitivity,’ it deserves to die.
    Or maybe it already has. Certainly the beauty of it fades in indirect proportion to its emphasis on marketing over art.

  • Carvanpool says:

    Chargebacks, get yer CHARGEBACKS!! Step right up!!

  • Dennis Milford says:

    Opera Houses are different from theaters. One doesn’t get a refund if there is a cast change. The Met doesn’t refund when a major singer doesn’t perform, and I would not expect ENO to refund either. Unexpected cast changes are a normal experience at an opera house.

  • Alan Honig says:

    After reading all the comments I think your position put you in the minority.

    What were the real set of facts which is how many people really requested refunds and was any one denied one.

    On the other hand what was accomplished by your article was you raised an issue and got people to comment. Good for you.

  • Harknyc says:

    Broadway theatres have had a policy for many years of giving refunds, or allowing a change of attendance date, when a “name above the title” has had to cancel. Theatres also have to post a cast change in the lobby before the performance begins. While it is exciting to see an understudy go on and give a terrific performance, it is certainly understandable that an audience member would want to see the actor perform when that actor might have been the impetus for buying the ticket in the first place. As for opera, the only time that I can remember that the Met gave refunds was when Pavarotti was too ill to perform at his own farewell.

  • Dan Radakovich says:

    I believe Ms. Close though she is the most prominent performer in the role[heck, she performed the songs from thast show at Weberr’s shindig several years ago in London] is not viewed in the UK as an essential performer for the run. Performers getting ill is a part of life, and atterndees take the chancwe that some may be ill on the date of their attendance. I is a courtesy to refund when instances occur, not a right. I recall a road show of Evita in LA i attended when the actress portraying the lead character took ill and we were not offered any refunds. The understudy put on a fine performance anyway, or so I heard. i was forced to leave inthe middle of the first act to try to locate my parents at the time, who had stopped off to visit pop’s employer at her home in Bel Air an hour before curtain. Fortunately my next eldest sister was old enough to ride herd on the youngest two. I luckily found a cabbie that knew where pop’s lived and found my folks shanghaied to be fill ins for a poker hand there, the employer telling them they should not bother asd it was not as good as the NY production- she of course did not consider the fact that not everyone could get to NYC for that one.They all felt guilty when I showed up at the door and tried to make it up by stupid things like getting a limo to pick us kids up afterwards, but none of us gave a d*** about it and resented the thoughtlessness for years.[Though I think my eldest sister resented more the fact that we were shunted off upstairs on arrival to her kid’s room more than the abandonment:) He had one of those arcade “football” games with a rolling ball affecting the cursor and i was fascinated as it seemed biased to one particular sde and how lame that was] Sorry for the digression..The point is we were not offered any refunds or alternate dates, and did not feel slighted. Of course this was in 1980-grin!

  • RICK says:

    I was fortunate to see Ms. Close in her closing performance in 1994 of Sunset Boulevard at the Music Center L.A…Ahmanson Theater… She was 46 years old and was marvelous…Then!…Now…I am sure, as she approaches 70, ….she still is marvelous and a great performer…I don’t believe audiences should hang on to the name… as much as they need to enjoy the talents, skills, and energies of some of the new and upcoming performers…Bravo!… Ria Jones!!
    ….from Frozen…”Let It Gooooo”….or Michael Crawford would still be performing Phantom in his mid to late 70s”…Just saying…Thanks Ken,…
    ….BTW…the last line in my Musical in the script is…wait for it….”I’m ready for my close-up”.., Mr. Vidor

  • Randy says:

    I agree with Ken on this one. While art is the heart of Broadway, it is being used to create opportunities for commerce, and Broadway is, first and foremost, commercial theatre and the market drives it. If the star is a major (or overwhelming) factor in the marketing, then if that person cannot perform a refund should be made available. Yes, understudies are much more often than not quite good (dare I say, sometimes better) than the star, but the kind of people who know this are not the ones who would want a refund. Those people who would want a refund have come for a different reason and we’d like to encourage them to come back again. But they might not if this was their first experience with Broadway…or live theatre! This is why whenever a major star is in a role they usually have not only an understudy, but also a stand-by whose Broadway bona fides are beyond impressive. They might not have national fame, but their bio will hopefully reassure most people and convince them to stay anyway. But if a Glenn Close mega-fan who never goes to theatre wants a refund, give it to them. Hugh Jackman had an understudy in THE BOY FROM OZ, but they would cancel a performance rather than put him on. Did Tom Hanks ever miss a performance of LUCKY GUY? I can’t find any info on that, but I can’t imagine a refund was not made available. Or George M. Cohan in I’D RATHER BE RIGHT in 1937? He had been a mega-star for over 30 years. Pretty much invented the 20th century Broadway musical comedy. I’m Googling like mad, but I know I’d want a refund and I’m a huge theatre geek and believer in theatre for its own sake.

  • Steven Conners says:

    Ken– Here’s another guy who’s mastered the art of internet “how to” : Barry Friedman – ShowBiz Blueprint Maybe you can be beneficial to each other. –sjc

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Ken Davenport
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