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For example, is it reasonable to assume that in a performance of The Phantom of the Opera, the best female singer plays Christine and the best male singer(s) play Raoul and the Phantom?

Intuitively it feels like the answer should be "yes", but my music intuition is poor so I'm asking this to make sure. If the answer is indeed yes, is it standard to start with minor roles and get promoted to more important ones as one gains recognition (rivalry over who gets to be the leading lady was a plot point in Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera)?

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    Setting aside the complexities of getting hired for anything in the frequently "political" world of performance... when casting an opera or musical, there's more to consider than voice. Much like a play or movie, someone might be a fantastic actor but be the wrong person for a role. Aug 23, 2021 at 2:25
  • Sadly people who are cast in several minor roles at the start of their careers can often end up playing minor roles for their whole careers. A more common way to get bigger parts is to play bigger parts in smaller productions and then leverage that experience and good reviews to be in larger productions. The number of lead parts on Broadway are far, far fewer than the number of excellent and capable actors, so it’s a rough business. I have Broadway actors in my family. One has been lead briefly on Broadway. The other has only been lead out of town. Both are amazing. Aug 23, 2021 at 7:20
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    What constitutes best?
    – Tim
    Aug 23, 2021 at 8:06
  • @Tim music.stackexchange.com/questions/92801/… That, I presume?
    – Allure
    Aug 23, 2021 at 8:23
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    So, basing on a question closed due to only expecting opinionated answers. Hence my question. Best can and will carry many different definitions - quality of voice being the obvious one, but that's only a small piece of the jigsaw surrounding why someone gets the leading role. Even having the 'best' voice in the world, and willing to work for nothing doesn't mean the job's yours if no-one wants to work with you, for various reasons...
    – Tim
    Aug 23, 2021 at 9:16

2 Answers 2

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No.

  • Firstly, often auditions are for specific roles, so at that level, it could be possible that the "best" singers all happen to be auditioning for a supporting role. Further, who's to say that a member of the chorus isn't actually a better singer than the lead, but just doesn't yet have the experience, clout, or name recognition to get lead roles.

  • Second, singing ability is not the only factor in casting. Appearance, acting ability, dancing ability, vocal quality, previous experience in the role, ..., all of these can impact who is ultimately cast.

As an example: Ralph Macchio ("The Karate Kid") was cast in a US national touring production of How to Succeed in Business without really Trying. Having seen the production, his presence was very clearly not for his outstanding singing ability. His voice was good enough, but his acting and dancing carried the show. And his name was recognizable, and certainly played some role in his casting.

  • There are also theater politics. A director, assistant, casting director, producer, ..., someone with influence over the casting decision might specifically want — or not want — someone for a role.

  • Finally, "best" is so highly, highly subjective, that except perhaps in amateur productions, where the choice of voices is limited and there can be a clear "best" singer, there can't be an objective answer. One person might prefer the lead, another might prefer the understudy, and another might prefer someone who wasn't cast at all (and will never know).

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  • Another good example is Evita, where arguably the best song (“Another Suitcase In Another Hall”) is not sung by the lead. So sometimes great singers audition for and are cast as The Other Woman. Also the actor who originated the female lead in A Little Night Music was not a great singer, so the female lead role is not the most demanding role in terms of singing ability. In the 2009 revival, Catherine Zeta Jones played the female lead, and probably was not the best singer to audition for the production. Aug 23, 2021 at 7:14
  • Availability may be another factor: preparing to perform the lead may take many hours of rehearsals, but a bit part may take much less; an in-demand singer may be able to fit in the latter but not the former. (While I'm here, there's a typo - "roll" should be "role".)
    – psmears
    Aug 23, 2021 at 11:37
  • @ToddWilcox Evita is a doubly good example — in the 1996 movie, Madonna was cast over Meryl Streep, who is both a better singer and a far better actress.
    – Aaron
    Aug 23, 2021 at 11:38
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    @Allure Wikipedia claims that Convington was already cast before they ever knew about Dickson, and that Dickson has the "wrong" voice type for the Evita role. (cont.)
    – Aaron
    Aug 23, 2021 at 15:25
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    @Allure "Rice and Webber had already enlisted actress Julie Covington to sing the part of Eva, hence they were on the look-out for other supporting vocal personnel.... Dickson and her manager, Bernard Theobald, had a discussion with Rice and Webber about starring in the musical, but her voice was declared 'too delicate' for singing the numbers on Evita. So they offered her one-song which was not sung by Eva's character, and that was 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall'." See Another Suitcase in Another Hall.
    – Aaron
    Aug 23, 2021 at 15:26
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You seem to be assuming a closed community, like an amateur dramatic society, where all casting is done from a pool of members.

In this situation I have seen lead parts be allocated on seniority. I have known a published rule that new members are not eligible for lead parts. And, where there are more than one such group in an area, I have seen complaints of members being 'poached' from one to another.

In the professional world, I have seen an accomplished unknown passed over in favour of a star name who would attract more audience.

And, of course, there's more to a Musical Theatre lead role than just the voice.

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