The recent uproar over the new “Cats” movie has spurred many passionate theater kids into spirals, not only because of the wretched CGI used in the film, but also because of the larger problem of the commercialization of musical theater as a whole.
Entertainment has been increasingly commercialized, from museums shifting away from traditional no-photo policies to more interactive, Instagram-able experiences, to video game controllers moving to virtual reality technology. In Silicon Valley, the evolution of modern entertainment is something everyone is familiar with.
Musical theater is an industry also moving into a new era, and a new industry is arising: film.
Many fans are excited about this shift. Movies can be bought online around the globe for everyone to see. Theater is suddenly more accessible to thousands of more people from the comfort of a movie theater and especially the home.
Lowered prices to movie theater tickets or online versions of musicals-turned-films are also a striking advantage to the home viewer. The average cost of a ticket to “Hamilton” on Broadway was $286 in 2018, according to the Washington Post. Now, fans who are enthusiastic to see their favorite songs performed by actors are spared this outrageous price for a one-night event.
Additionally, not everyone has a theater close to their hometowns, and with the worldwide reach of the Internet, theater can reach a wider audience.
However, even more musical theater fans are upset at this shift. The central appeal of theater is going out to see a live performance. Audiences appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into every show each night, from the performers both onstage and off, to the technicians lighting the show.
Unfortunately, a screen cannot engage an audience as powerfully as live performance can, yet the film industry is taking full advantage of musical theater as a money-making device.
The starring actors hired for film adaptations of musicals are already commonly known in the film industry. The cast of the “Cats” movie is packed with famous headliners, such as Judie Dench, Taylor Swift, James Cordon and Jason Derulo. Even the adaptation of “Les Miserables” in 2012 was filled with acclaimed actors, from the talented Anne Hathaway to Eddie Redmayne.
These actors, however, are not Broadway stars, but rather Hollywood famous celebrities. Anyone who saw Russell Crowe’s performance as Javert in the “Les Miserables” film adaptation knows he cannot sing. The question then remains, why was he cast?
In Crowe’s case, he has been nominated for a total of three Academy Awards, none of which were for sung performances. Crowe may not have brought talent to the film, though he certainly brought his name recognition to contribute to the $27.3 million its opening weekend.
If the film industry wanted to bring an authentic, theatrical approach to its adaptations, it should cast appropriately.
However, there may be hope for “Cats” even so. Though its character design may be a little too human like, some cast members have vocal training. Granted, Taylor Swift may not be trained for Broadway, but she has experience singing in some capacity rather than none.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to the film industry’s new-found grasp on live theater, though only time will tell how far this hold will go.