Why you don’t always have to side with the crowd

‘The opinions of people is all part and parcel of the theatre industry. It’s a critic’s job to be opinionated about everything they see on the stage, from the writing and score to the set design and the performers themselves, and ultimately, a show’s eventual success or failure rests on what they and the audience think of it. In fact, I would say the theatre-going public probably hold more power than the critics do.

Musical theatre fans have an opinion about every aspect of the industry. If you were to read through some of the MT forums, you would find hours and hours worth of discussion on both the best and worst composers, writers, songs, shows, theatres, genres, and so much more. One of the most popular topics of fans’ discussions are the performers themselves though. Everyone has a favourite musical theatre actor and/or actress, although it can vary greatly between each fan as to who they are – where one person can be the No. 1 supporter of a particular performer to the point of obsession, another can hate that same performer with a passion. It’s all relative.

It’s impossible for every musical theatre fan in the world to be completely in sync in regards to how a certain performer is thought of, but generally speaking, there is always an over-ruling majority on one side of the debate. Well-established stage performers like John Owen-Jones, Louise Dearman, Michael Ball, Imelda Staunton, Michael Xavier and Samantha Bark, to name a few, surely have their detractors, but the vast majority of fans hold them in high esteem and there is a general agreement that they are some of the biggest and brightest West End stars around today.

Our species’ ability to think for ourselves is one of our best qualities as far as I’m concerned, and unless we want to be a herd of mindless sheep all thinking, acting and looking the exact same way, it’s not only healthy for people to disagree, but necessary!

There are particular performers who have a certain stigma or reputation attached to them which makes it somewhat ‘uncool’ to declare yourself as a fan of theirs. One who is often talked about in mixed terms is Michael Crawford, for example. He is most closely linked with originating the role of The Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which was itself cause for contention as he was then primarily known for playing hapless Frank Spencer in the BBC comedy sitcom, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. He won the critics over however, and secured himself a place in the annuls of musical theatre history as the original Phantom. He has also secured himself somewhat of a reputation for being difficult to work with though, which has attracted the damnation of many a fan. He was widely criticised for not singing when he made an appearance at the Royal Albert Hall at the end of the 25th Anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera, when his former Christine, Sarah Brightman, sang the title song with Phantoms Ramin Karimloo, John Owen-Jones, Colm Wilkinson, Anthony Warlow and Peter Joback.

Another musical theatre performer who has a long list of stage credits to their name but is not necessarily so well respected for them as other performers is Scottish/American actor John Barrowman. I’ve often heard such words as ‘cheesy’ and ‘annoying’ used in reference to him, and I know there are people out there who like his voice and his work but won’t admit to that fact for fear of being ridiculed.

Just because a majority number of people think of someone in a certain way, such as with Crawford and Barrowman, it doesn’t mean that you have to agree to ‘keep face’, or hide your admirement of them. The opposite is true too. If you don’t rate a performer that most people rave about, then it’s fine to vocalise that. Ramin Karimloo is one of the most popular Phantoms ever, but there were still some who didn’t think he should have been the one to play the role in the 25th Anniversary production.

Not everyone is going to agree with you about the performers you like and dislike, and that’s fine. They shouldn’t. Theatre is all about variety, and not everything in it will appeal to everyone’s personal taste. People should never be afraid to stand against the crowd and voice an opinion that opposes a common mindset though. If you’re a fan of a performer who isn’t exactly one of the popular kids in school, so what? And if you don’t like one of the popular kids? Well, that’s fine too. Either way, you may not be in the majority, but you’ll certainly never be alone.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Tuesday 18th August 2015

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