There's a big difference between 'straight' acting and Song and Dance, but some stars make it...
A recent article in the New York Times profiled the actor Robert Sean Leonard, best known to British audiences as one of the leads in the Robin Williams school drama movie, "Dead Poets Society." Leonard happens to be an experienced theatre actor, and his most recent Broadway success came as the young A. E. Housman in Tom Stoppard's play, The Invention of Love, for which he won a Tony Award.
Leonard is now limbering up as Harold Hill, the loveable rogue at the centre of The Music Man, while another actor best known for non-singing stage and creen roles, Matthew Broderick, is co-star of New York's hottest musical for years, The Producers.
The London equivalent in the 1980s was Robert Lindsay, who made the transition from television sitcom star to stage musical leading man in Me and My Girl, in a role that he then went on to play in New York. Most recently, however, he has been celebrated as a Shakespearean performer, with his sell-out run of Richard III at the Savoy.
Moving in the other direction, at the National at the moment, in Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy, Denis Quilley is playing a straight dramatic role, whereas he is perhaps best known as a singer, in particular as an interpreter of Sondheim. The fact that some actors can sing comes as a pleasant surprise to the public, as with Ian McShane — better known as Lovejoy, a dodgy television antiques dealer — in The Witches of Eastwick, Cameron Mackintosh's latest hit musical. In general, however, audiences seem to prefer their leading men to be either primarily singers or primarily actors.
The greatest exception to this, though, must be Michael Crawford who, although his singing ability was evident as a young man — and he appeared in the title role at Drury Lane in BillyThe Phantom of The Opera. Singing has been an essential part of his public performances ever since and, as reported by the Sunday Times, Crawford may end up back on Broadway playing an aristocratic nosferatu in the Jim Steinman-Roman Polanski tuner, Dance of the Vampires.
Producers may prefer to have an established singing star in a musical, but, increasingly, the important thing is to have a star, whatever their previous experience: what their track record lacks, a microphone, singing teacher and hard work can help overcome. — by Paul Webb Theatrenow