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Who’s In It – And Why Does It Matter?

I’ll be honest. When I heard that Ronan Keating was taking over the lead role in hit musical Once from 17th November, I had mixed feelings.

Don’t get me wrong; I like Ronan. I even had one of his albums back in the day. But Once is one of my favourite shows - and movies - and I wasn’t sure how a former boyband member would fare as Guy, a tortured, tempestuous singer-songwriter known for his raw and emotional music.

But maybe I’m being unfair. There’ve been many celebrities from the worlds of TV and pop who’ve appeared on the London stage to great acclaim. Rowan Atkinson, for example, who was brilliant a few years ago as Fagin in Oliver! Or Matt Lucas, who brought the house down as lovable villain Thénardier in Les Misérables. Former X Factor contestant Niki Evans had us all sobbing our hearts out in Blood Brothers, and even Lindsay Lohan is currently receiving positive reviews in Speed-The-Plow

It does bother me, though, that often when I tell someone I’m going to see a West End show, their first question is, ‘Who’s in it?’ I’ve seen a lot of shows that didn’t have anyone ‘famous’ in, at least outside of musical theatre circles, and loved every second. Just look at Eva Noblezada, currently starring as Kim in Miss Saigon – she’s only eighteen and a complete unknown, but she’s incredible. Or Luke Treadaway, who I sadly missed in his award-winning turn as Christopher in The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.

I do understand why celebrity casting is important. It brings in the crowds and creates great headlines, and probably keeps many of our favourite shows from closing. But does it also mean genuine and talented musical theatre actors miss out on roles they might be perfect for, and force them to play second fiddle to a big name, who may not be as good?

And it’s not only the actors who miss out – celebrities naturally draw in larger audiences, which can mean fans who want to see the show itself, rather than its celebrity star, miss out on tickets, or end up paying over the odds for them. And there’s always the chance that after all that, you may wait six months, or more, and then find you’ve gone on the one night when the star’s on holiday.

But having said all that, there’s every chance I’ll end up going to see Ronan in Once. But not because of who's in it. If I go, it'll be because of what it is, which is an amazing show that deserves multiple viewings. Once is closing next March, so whatever your feelings about Boyzone, don't miss your chance to see this fantastic show, while you still can.

By Liz Dyer

"Seeing it once is definitely not enough…I will be seeing it again and again. UNMISSABLE"
Sunday Express

Once is booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 21 March, 2015. Don't miss your chance to see this well-loved and critically acclaimed show before it closes, book your Once tickets now!

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