Original Cast Precedent
Doesn't it sometimes seem like, when someone does Jesus Christ Superstar
, Judas is always black?
This may not technically be true—there may indeed be as many non-black actors cast in the role as black ones—the point is that the impression
is there. Most people who know the show, or at least the Broadway production with Ben Vereen and film with Carl Anderson, when they think of the character, think of him as black. This phenomenon is also why most people who think of the musical RENT
will imagine Mark with short blond hair and glasses. This can also refer to casting conventions, such as how certain shows are always subject to (sometimes ridiculous) Dawson Casting
whereas others are less so.
Whether or not this refers only to things not listed in the script or things that may
be listed in the script but are irrelevant to the characters and story is up for debate.
Notable original cast precedents include:
- In Into the Woods, the actor who plays Cinderella's Prince doubles as the Wolf, the Narrator as the Mysterious Man, and Cinderella's Mother as Granny and the Giant. This is not a script-based necessity, merely a tradition established by the original Broadway production.
- Nathan Lane codified the performance of Max Bialystock, so much so that in a brief Fourth Wall-breaking moment in "Betrayed," Max will pull out a Playbill and remark "He's good, but he's no Lane!".
- Inverted in the case of the Leading Player was originally played on Broadway by Ben Vereen. However, there really is no typical image of the Leading Player, and 'he' is as often a 'she' as not, and of all different ethnicities, body types, and ages (as long as he/she is older than Pippin). The only stereotype of this role is that it's hardly ever played by a white male.
- A straight example is that the original actor for Pippin had absolutely no luck with the costume department in regards to shoes. He could never find a pair of shoes that were comfortable, so one night, fed up, he decided to do the whole show barefoot. It wasn't easy. In his dressing room after the curtain call, Bob Fosse (the choreographer) came in. The actor prepared himself for a grovelling apology, but instead Fosse gushed, "I love it! Barefoot! Gives you that innocence." Since then, Pippin is always barefoot.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
- Mrs. Lovett is almost always cast a little on the plump side or blowsy, like Angela Lansbury as opposed to the equally (perhaps more) likely possibility of her being thin and bony. Christine Baranski is one of the few skinny Mrs. Lovetts.
- There also seems to have been a shift based on the Revival's take on her. Angela Lansbury made her rather grandmotherly, but Patti LuPone's version is younger and more in the way of a Perky Goth, a presentation which also applies to the film version (although most Tim Burton characters have Looks Like Cesare going on anyway).
- The title character's One-Liner when he triumphantly holds out his razor is, according to the script: "My right arm is complete again!" So why is it usually performed and remembered as, "At last my arm is complete again"? Len Cariou of the original Broadway cast was left-handed.
- Utterson in Jekyll & Hyde tends to be played by a black actor, despite no particular reason for this.
- Higgins' songs in My Fair Lady were meant to be sung, not spoken, but many portrayers follow the precedent of original non-singer Rex Harrison.
- Has there ever been a production of Camelot with an Arthur who could sing? The original Arthur was Richard Burton, and Richard Harris played the role in the movie and later on stage. Indeed, it's a tradition for any big budget version of Camelot to have Arthur played by a respectable movie star with little or no singing experience (Burton, Harris, Laurence Harvey, Gabriel Byrne, Michael York) or someone who made their theatre career singing that way (Jeremy Irons). A rare exception was Robert Goulet — the original Broadway cast's Lancelot — playing Arthur in a touring production ca. 1998-1999.
- Peter Pan:
- The title role has almost always been played by a woman, as most men post-puberty would be unable to pull off the acrobatic choreography, while still having a childlike voice and frame.
- Similarly, the children's father and Captain Hook are generally played by the same person. (Though Barrie originally wanted Mrs. Darling to be the actress to play Captain Hook... make of that what you will.)
- In The Musical at least, the role of Eliza, the maid, is typically doubled with that of Tiger Lily.
- The Wiz (an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) was originally staged with an all-black cast, and the movie version and many subsequent productions have followed suit. However, perhaps since race doesn't seem like an in-story issue to those who take it at face value, it's not uncommon to see colorblind stagings, especially on the amateur level.
- Alice in Wonderland:
- The original book's illustrations depicted Alice as blonde, even though the real-life Alice Liddell was dark-haired. Most adaptations follow the illustrations in making Alice blonde and blue-eyed.
- And for Alice In Wonderland in general, the main time when you do see a dark-haired Alice is when the story's been Grimmified. (Though this isn't done in every dark retelling. Just a lot of them.) Perhaps this is because it makes her look more like a goth. A notable exception to this tradition is a musical film adaptation from the early '70s which featured Dudley Moore.
- Revivals of The Cradle Will Rock often do without costumes, scenery or orchestra; the original production (which was directed by Orson Welles, by the way) did this out of necessity when the actors were locked out of the theatre it was supposed to open in.
- Little Shop of Horrors:
- The voice of the Man-Eating Plant is usually that of a black singer, though his (real) face is unseen — or rather, is seen only as that of a Skid Row bum, which he doubles as by precedent.
- Audrey is nearly always blonde, or given a blonde wig.
- Zero Mostel had a huge influence on future portrayals of the characters he played. Most notably Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof—a dirt poor Russian Jew shouldn't logically be a very fat man.
- Guys and Dolls:
- Sky Masterson is the traditional romantic lead while Nathan Detroit is the more comic role. Though Nathan Detroit was originally played by the tone-deaf Sam Levene, thanks to Frank Sinatra's portrayal in the movie, Nathan Detroit is often played by the better singer.
- Nicely-Nicely Johnson tends to be heavyset, thanks to Stubby Kaye in the film version.
- Broken with the Red Bird in Cirque du Soleil's Mystère — it was always a male role until the artistic directors of the show realized a certain female member of the company was better suited to the character's personality. It required a new costume design, since the original was designed as a Walking Shirtless Scene, but worked out so well that the role can now be filled with a performer of either gender.
- The Phantom of the Opera:
- Christine is almost always a brunette because Sarah Brightman, who originated the role, has dark hair. It should be noted that RUG tends to keep a very close rein on character designs in their productions. (In 2014 Emmi Christensson became the first Christine to have a blonde wig in the West End. All other blonde Christines in ALW's Phantom have been in non-replica productions.)
- In casting the managers, Firmin is almost invariably older and more heavyset than Andre.
- Most of the characters in RENT tend to be portrayed as the same ethnicities from production to production, and their appearances are closely associated with the original performers. This was probably exacerbated by the film version casting the majority of the original cast.
- Everyone remembers Joanne as black, because she was in the original Broadway cast. When the time came for the film, Fredi Walker, who felt herself too old to play a lawyer just out of law school, made one request — that Joanne remain black — and so Tracie Thoms got the role.
- Roger tends to be a blonde.
- Maureen almost always appears with curly brown hair.
- The before-mentioned blond, bespectacled Mark (a bit unusual given that he's Jewish).
- Averted by the 2007 Australian production, which cast the Italian Anthony Callea as Mark.
- And averted in the Broadway production when they did some Stunt Casting with Joey Fatone of **NSYNC as Mark: he kept his natural black hair.
- The only notable aversion to this in Rent is Angel. The role was originated by Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who's Dominican; later Angels have included Jose Llana (Filipino) and Telly Leung (Chinese), and the original understudy, Darius De Haas, is black.
- The recent 20th Anniversary UK Concert Touring production saw some backlash when Kerry Ellis, a white English actress, was cast as Mimi, a Hispanic character.
- All of this aside, there's also the matter of voices (inflections, center of tone, and general voice qualities). For example, although Ko-Ko in The Mikado is generally kind (and debatedly The Woobie) due to the casting of a certain John Reed, almost every portrayal you see has the same character voice. Which wrecks havok on those preparing to audition for the part, who have to choose whether to read the part in their own voice or the precedented one. Similarly, actors have imitated Victor Moore's character voice as Throttlebottom in Of Thee I Sing and Moonface in Anything Goes.
- The original film had Divine playing Tracy's mom Edna, and the stage shows and later movie continue the man-as-woman tradition.
- Tracy Turnblad is always played by a newcomer.
- Les Misérables:
- The majority of Eponines have had dark hair, despite that Hugo himself is not very consistent on Eponine's hair color, describing her first as having "chestnut/auburn" colored hair before later referring to her as having "a blonde and lymphatic pallor.". This is probably set by original Eponine, Frances Ruffelle and reinforced by notable 10th Anniversary Concert Cast Eponine, Lea Salonga, and 25th Anniversary, Samantha Barks. In fact, Megan Lawrence, a blonde Eponine on Broadway, commented once to an interviewer that she never thought she'd get to play Eponine because she was a blonde.
- Cosette, a brunette in the book, is always given a brown wig, regardless of the hair colour of the actress. Katie Hall is a notable aversion. She played Cosette in the 25th Anniversary Concert. However, she too wore a dark wig when she played the role at the Queen's Theatre. Cosette was also blond in the 2012 movie, when she was played by Amanda Seyfried.
- Double subverted with Thénardier. Alun Armstrong debuted the role in London with a cockney accent, and this has been the standard ever since. However, the more famous recording is the Original Broadway Cast version, which has Leo Burmester perform the role in his American accent, while attempting an upper-class British accent in front of his guests at the inn. The film has Sacha Baron Cohen drawing from elements of both, with cockney being his default, and putting on a French accent in front of the guests.
- Helene in Sweet Charity is traditionally played by a black actress, like Thelma Oliver in the original Broadway cast and Paula Kelly in the 1969 film. (Though, in an aversion, Charity herself was played by a black actress, Debbie Allen, in the 1986 Broadway revival.)
- The Rocky Horror Show:
- Eddie and Dr Scott are frequently played by the same actor. The film, which casts two different actors in the roles, is a rare aversion of this.
- The Usherette who sings "Science Fiction Double Feature" is often played by the actress who portrays Magenta or Columbia.
- In Das Rheingold, at the point where Wagner's text merely reads "as if seized by a great thought," Wotan usually holds up a sword left over from Fafner's hoard and points it towards the castle, in accordance with the "sword" Leitmotif which makes its first appearance here. This practice was approved by Wagner for the inaugural Bayreuth production of 1876 (though Das Rheingold had its premiere seven years earlier).
- Bram Stoker never describes Dracula as wearing a cape. The image came from an early stage production, which included the cape to facilitate the special effects - the actor playing Dracula would close the cape around him when he was disappearing into a hidden trapdoor, making it look like he had vanished into thin air. It got carried over into the film, and since then, the cape has become associated not only with Dracula, but with vampires in general.
- In productions of 1776, Abigail Adams nearly always wears blue and Martha Jefferson nearly always wears pink.
- Emile de Becque from South Pacific is almost always played by an Italian operatic baritone; for instance, Ezio Pinza, Rossano Brazzi, and Paulo Szot. Brazzi, although dubbed by Georgio Tozzi (operatic tenor!), still checked off 'Italian'. Which is interesting, as de Becque is ostensibly French.
- The Teen Angel and Johnny Casino are usually played by the same actor, as Alan Paul played both in the original Broadway production. Exceptions to the rule include Johnny Casino being written out of some stagings, so that the actor for Vince Fontaine will instead double the part for the Teen Angel.
- Danny is almost always a brunet, as are the rest of the Burger Palace Boys. However, sometimes a blond will be cast in one of the roles, or sometimes one character will receive a Race Lift (as with one actor for Doody in the '94 Broadway revival).
- Rizzo is generally black-haired, while Frenchy is almost always a redhead, Marty is a blonde, and Jan has brown hair. The '94 production averted this at first, by having Megan Mullally play a brunette Marty and Jessica Stone play Frenchy as a blonde.
- Sandy herself is nearly always played by a blonde actress, or the actress will be given a blonde wig. This in part was due to the popularity of Olivia Newton-John's portrayal in the film adaptation, although the real-life inspiration for Sandy's character was also a blonde. Although in both the '72 and 2007 Broadway productions, the initial actresses for Sandy were allowed to keep their dark hair.
- Both Joel Grey and Alan Cumming made such indelible impressions as the Emcee in Cabaret that most versions of the character are likely to recall one or the other.
- Though Benjamin Britten's War Requiem is a non-theatrical choral work, performances of it tend to involve a Russian soprano, a British tenor and a German baritone, despite there being nothing in the texts implicating those specific nationalities. This tradition, of course, was started with the original 1962 performance and recording under the composer (even though Galina Vishnevskaya couldn't make the premiere and had to be replaced with Heather Harper).
- This trope was parodied in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which critics lambaste the lead actor in The King and I for not being bald, like Yul Brynner, while the actor demands that critics point to the part in the script where it says that the King is bald.
- Hank Azaria originated the role of Lancelot in Spamalot. Ever since then, despite the fact that Lancelot is described as "big and strong and hot" and was originally played on film by the very tall and handsome John Cleese, Lancelot's actor tends to be extremely small compared to his fellow knights. This could be attributed to the fact that Lancelot's actor also has to play three extremely hammy and heavily-accented side characters, and being able to do that is more important than matching Lancelot's physical description, but doesn't quite explain why the actor must always be so short.
- In Avenue Q, more than just a few people assume that Gary Coleman is always played by a black woman. Most Youtube clips with songs from Avenue Q are from the Broadway production with Natalie Venetia Belcon playing Coleman, so it made a few people confused whenever they found clips from the London production featuring Giles Terera.
- In most productions of West Side Story, the Jets tend to wear blue and yellow clothing while the Sharks wear red and purple. The most recent Broadway revival bucked this trend by having the Jets wear green and orange instead.
- Though the casting calls of Hamilton simply say that every actor (with the exception of the one playing King George III) should be non-white, most productions match up exactly with the ethnicities of the original Broadway cast (predominantly black, with Latino men as Hamilton and Laurens and an Asian woman as Eliza), though this is far from universal.