Kelly Osbourne, newest West End Mama

When I read the article announcing that Kelly Osbourne would be taking over the role of Matron “Mama” Morton in the West End production of Chicago, I rested my head on my desk and wept quietly.

Actually, first I read the name as Kelly Clarkson (and have not been able to get that out of my head!), reread the article and thought, “Argh! I hate stunt casting!”

Now, I know the arguments in favor of stunt casting. It increases box office and exposes more people to theater (or theatre, in the West End). The standards for musicals are lower in London than in New York (although the standards for plays are higher), and this particular production is notorious for its stunt casting. Ashlee Simpson has already played Roxie! So should I really be upset that a reality show star with little or no training is taking over a great role for which she’s 20 years too young?

Yes, I should. Because while it’s a good thing to keep theaters filled, it’s a bad thing to sacrifice the quality of the shows in the process. And theater snob that I am, I believe that stage acting and singing actually require stage and vocal training. I remember when I saw David Hasselhoff in Jekyll & Hyde. (And, yes, I get the contradiction in calling myself a theater snob and admitting I saw David Hasselhoff in Jekyll & Hyde.) When asked what the worst moment in the show was, I responded, “When he got a standing ovation.” That’s what the issue is for me: I want audiences to demand the best so that I get to see the best.

The David Hasselhoff comparison may be a low blow, but Kelly Clarkson Osbourne as Mama Morton is just so wrong. The essence of the character is in the name: “Matron” and “Mama.” She’s shrewd and experienced and knows how to work the system but, in her own way, she takes care of all “of the chickies in [her] pen.” Kind of a scheming-prison-matron-with-a-heart-of-gold.

Marcia Lewis, who originated the role in the Broadway revival, cut her teeth on character roles such as Miss Hannigan in Annie. (And she played both a prison matron and a house mother, Mother Dunbar, on Happy Days. It’s all right there!) She balanced the humor and sexual innuendo so that the audience enjoyed the character rather than gawked at the actress.

And of course, in the movie version, we had Queen Latifah.

Enough said.

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