Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Theatre and Performance


James Wilson

Committee Members

David Savran

Jean Graham-Jones

Subject Categories

Theatre and Performance Studies


Broadway, musical theatre, star, celebrity, aura


Given the celebrity frenzy of the post-millennial climate, as described by Chris Rojek in Fame Attack and other celebrity theorists, Broadway followed suit and celebrity names were seen with regularity on Broadway marquees in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. While Broadway has nourished numerous individuals into becoming stars, those who are upheld above others for the significance of their work and accolades, celebrities are those whose private life garners more attention and interest than their work. My dissertation provides a critical reading and analysis of the performances of theatrical stars, film celebrities, television personalities, and reality television celebrities who starred in Broadway musicals from 2003-2018. The television series American Idol premiered 2002, democratically “electing” celebrities plucked from the obscurity of the ordinary. The shockwave effects began to be seen throughout the entertainment industry by the following year and the Broadway musical, as always, adjusted to the celebrity zeitgeist. However, a new shift began near the end of this period as Broadway performers began to harness their own celebrity through the internet and social media. Although it remains to be seen, this change could lead to a new shift in the production and reception of Broadway musicals, where Broadway celebrities take center stage.

Each chapter of my dissertation builds upon the work of Marvin Carlson in The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine and Walter Benjamin in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” My dissertation discusses how the ghosts of a celebrity’s personal life haunt their performance and reception in a Broadway musical. Following an examination of three theatrical luminaries, each subsequent chapter analyzes different types of celebrities–film, television, and reality television. In his 1935 essay, Benjamin discussed the inherent loss of the artistic aura through the new technological advancements of the era, specifically the camera lens. As celebrities are typically consumed through their images produced by print, film, and/or television, an aura is absent. However, an aura is present in a theatrical space, and, as this dissertation argues, therefore, each celebrity produces an auratic emanation, creating different relationships with audiences. Each aura and relationship is dependent upon the type of medium associated with each celebrated figure. Following an analysis of performances of theatrical stars Nathan Lane, Patti LuPone, and Audra McDonald, each chapter examines different types of celebrities: film celebrities Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (2011), Emma Stone in Cabaret (2014), and Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz (2003) and Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway (2011); television personalities Christina Applegate in Sweet Charity (2005), Lauren Graham in Guys and Dolls (2009), and Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2014); and finally competitive reality television series contestants Tamyra Gray from American Idol in Bombay Dreams (2004) and Rent (2007), Grease: You’re the One That I Want winner Laura Osnes in Grease (2007), and Legally Blonde: The Musical­­–The Search for the Next Elle Woods champion Bailey Hanks in Legally Blonde: The Musical (2008).

The use of celebrity casting in Broadway musicals did not always work harmoniously throughout this period of examination and as a popular art form is always malleable. I argue that with advancements in internet accessibility and social networking, theatrical stars have the ability to reach beyond those within the musical theatre domain. By providing insight into their private lives on a global scale, they are permitted to enter the contemporary world of celebrity, perhaps negating the perceived necessity of casting celebrities on Broadway. This is best exemplified by the meteoric rise of Lin-Manuel Miranda through his musical Hamilton (2015) and the expansion of his celebrity through digital media.