The Broadway Conundrum: Is Star Power Essential for Success?

In the glittering world of Broadway, where the stakes are as high as the ticket prices, the question of whether a show needs a ‘big name’ to thrive has become a pivotal point of discussion. With production costs soaring into the tens of millions and the brutal transparency of box office returns, the pressure to succeed is immense. Here, failure can mean a show closing with only days’ notice if the numbers don’t add up.

Some productions and their investors seem to believe that the key to financial success lies in star power—either a Hollywood heavyweight or a bona fide Broadway legend who can draw in the crowds. This strategy is evident in the 2023/2024 season, which boasted a glittering roster of stars including Florence Pugh, Emma Stone, Adam Driver, Cynthia Erivo, Lupita Nyong’o, Ben Platt, Hugh Jackman, and Andrew Garfield. The upcoming season promises to be just as star-studded with names like Anne Hathaway, Daveed Diggs, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Laura Benanti, Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Rami Malek, Beanie Feldstein, and Jeremy Pope, with the possibility of Tony winner Jessie Mueller joining the ranks.

Yet, this reliance on star power is not universal. The producers behind ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,’ eyeing a revival, are keenly aware of this trend. They recently polled their American fans, asking if the show could only succeed with a Broadway star at the helm. Since its inception, they have championed their original cast, determined to stick with their winning team despite industry whispers suggesting otherwise.

There are notable exceptions to the star-driven formula. ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ landed on Broadway with a slew of awards and became, at one point, the longest-running play on the Great White Way, continuing its success off-Broadway. Similarly, ‘Come From Away,’ though featuring Broadway regulars, did not rely on marquee names—the material itself was the star.

In our view, rather than a ‘big name,’ a show needs to generate genuine intrigue. This can come through compelling casting, prestigious awards, strong word-of-mouth, or a combination of these factors. A show with significant critical acclaim and enthusiastic audience support can succeed without a major star.

Moreover, the theater world cherishes star-making performances. Ben Platt, for example, was catapulted to international fame after leading ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ in New York. There is no reason the ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812’ team couldn’t follow a similar trajectory, proving that the right material and performance can make stars out of unknowns and enchant audiences without the need for established names.

Broadway’s landscape may be challenging and competitive, but it remains a place where talent and creativity can shine, sometimes even more brightly than the stars themselves.

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