How Do You Cast a Musical?

Apparently CBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? has done well, and it ended the way so many reality shows seem to end: the winner is the likable one who was set up as the underdog. (The fact that the fan voting so frequently leads to this result can sometimes make you wonder exactly how they count those votes and who exactly counts them.)

The real question is how many people will go to see the stage play on the basis of the show. This is the question that applies to this entire sub-genre of “audition” shows, where the winner gets to appear in a real stage show. It makes total sense: the format is similar to American Idol, but the stakes are real and the auditions actually have a defined purpose, and the show benefits from co-sponsorship: the Mirvishes or whoever’s producing Grease on Broadway puts up some of the money for the show (I’m assuming) and the play benefits from all the publicity it received on TV.

In theory. In practice, the NBC-sponsored revival of Grease doesn’t seem to be doing all that great. And while that’s only one example, not really a sufficient sample size, there’s a question here: will the benefit of TV-show publicity outweigh the benefit a show could get from casting someone better-known in the lead? The Sound of Music is a good test for this because while Grease demands to be cast with unknowns (the stage version, anyway; the movie version is different), and the revivals tend to fail because the show really isn’t very good, Sound of Music was and is a star vehicle all the way. So casting an unknown in a part that was written to require superstars (Mary Martin, Julie Andrews) is kind of a risk, but if it works, then it could validate the whole audition-show format and lead to other musicals being cast in this fashion.

What musical would you nominate as the next one for this reality-show format? I’m going with Eliza Doolittle and Higgins from My Fair Lady — the opportunities for hilarious Dick Van Dyke-esque Cockney accents, and non-singing actors trying to sound like Rex Harrison, are infinite.

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