Selling with Star Power

I often hear about animosity in the theatre community when it comes to star casting. Should big names be brought in to lift up a production and enamour tourists? It is an age-old debate. But I don’t believe that star casting productions are really that different from all their competitors. Let me explain.


This last week has been pretty strong for Broadway when it comes to ticket sales. Huge grosses and stunning capacity numbers were scored by almost every production with only two productions actually backtracking on capacity. But let’s look at those productions which reached 100% capacity.

Violet, The Lion King, Of Mice and Men, A Raisin in the Sun, Aladdin, Cabaret, Wicked, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Matilda, Newsies, Mamma Mia! and The Book of Mormon.

That’s 12 productions which were completely sold out last week – and that is some feat when there are 8 shows a week to fill and hundreds of competitors in the New York City marketplace.

Of course, star casting had something to do with a number of these productions as the leading celebrities bring their followers into the theatre with them. Violet has Sutton Foster, Of Mice and Men stars Chris O’Dowd and James Franco, A Raisin in the Sun features Denzel Washington, Cabaret with Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams and Hedwig and the Angry Inch showing off the talents of Neil Patrick Harris. And as a result, a lot of people would discount these victories – but let’s take a look at the others.

Every member of this list uses star casting. The only difference . . . the stars are not always the stage.

The Lion King, Aladdin and Newsies all rely on the Disney brand to bring people into their theatres. Matilda uses the Roald Dahl and Tim Minchin brand to fill their seats. Mamma Mia! features the incredibly powerful and much-loved ABBA brand. And The Book of Mormon is still selling out due to the lasting legacy of the South Park brand and that of its creators.

Wicked is just a force unto itself and reaches its potential due to a number of different star brands including that of creator Stephen Schwartz, the subject matter of The Wizard of Oz and the lasting results of being a long-running show.

The result of these star brands is decreased risk for the consumer which means they are more likely to part with the extravagant amount of money for a night of entertainment. But what is often forgotten is that the star doesn’t always have to be on stage!