British actresses Jenna Russell and Charlotte Emmerson have defended the casting of Ewan McGregor and Val Kilmer in Guys and Dolls and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter
Walking through London's Theatreland this summer, you might be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled on some star-studded outpost of Broadway - or Hollywood.
Jenna Russell (left) stars opposite Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls
At the Gielgud Theatre Friends actor David Schwimmer can be found as a serial womaniser in Some Girl(s). Not far away, Brooke Shields can be seen hoofing in fishnets in the hit musical Chicago.
Rob Lowe will shortly be appearing in courtroom drama A Few Good Men, and speculation is mounting that Ashley Judd is to make her West End debut this autumn in the play Burn This.
Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor's turn in Guys and Dolls has made the show the hottest ticket in town.
And though his performance has received stinging reviews from the critics, Val Kilmer is doing respectable business at the Playhouse in The Postman Always Rings Twice.
It seems you can't open in London without some big name on your poster. But for McGregor and Kilmer's British co-stars, that may not necessarily be such a bad thing.
"With Ewan you're getting a completely different audience," says Jenna Russell, who plays Sarah Brown to McGregor's Sky Masterson in the Damon Runyon-inspired musical.
"It's a much younger audience full of people who have never been to the theatre before. If they like this they might come back."
Emmerson (left) shares steamy love scenes with Val Kilmer on stage
Charlotte Emmerson - Kilmer's leading lady in the stage adaptation of the James M Cain novel - admits to some ambivalence over the way Hollywood stars are now routinely cast in West End productions.
Yet she accepts that without them, a lot of British actors would be unable to work.
"We've got fantastic actors in this country, but they don't seem to be enough to sell tickets anymore," she says.
"Having one American in this show is employing a lot of British actors. It's sad, but you have to just go with it in the end."
The backlash may have already started, with Kilmer bearing the brunt of several critics' scorn.
Emmerson, however, refuses to let her co-star carry the can completely.
"We didn't have long enough," she admits candidly. "We only had four weeks and Val had to go to Cannes in that time.
Some critics have been less than kind about Kilmer's performance
"The show wasn't completely ready when it opened, but I still think the reviews were very unjust.
"I haven't come out too badly, but I can't celebrate because it's our show - that doesn't count for anything."
The situation could hardly be more different at the Piccadilly, where Guys and Dolls has been showered with plaudits.
Ask Russell, though, and she pleads ignorance. "I don't read reviews," she shrugs. "I live by the rule that if they're nice, people tell you.
"When it's all over or when I feel comfortable with the show I'll read them. But my mother assures me they're okay."
So are Russell and Emmerson bitter they do not receive the adulation afforded to their co-stars? Not a bit of it.
Indeed, both performers say they are glad not to exposed to that kind of interest and scrutiny.
"It must be so strange to be that famous," says Emmerson "Everyone wants a piece of Val.
"I walked out the stage door the other night and there was this sea of faces. All I could say was, 'Sorry, I'm not him!'"
But Guys and Dolls is now one of the hottest tickets in town
For Russell, the queues of McGregor fans outside stage door have become a regular fixture. "It's hilarious - screaming girls, security guards, all that," she laughs.
But the star of BBC One's Born and Bred has an admirably pragmatic view when it comes to stardom and celebrity.
"Success and failure have become very different over the last 10 years," she says.
"People become famous for doing nothing, and there are people with an extraordinary body of work who no one recognises.
"The only way you can measure success is if you're working."
The Postman Always Rings Twice is at the Playhouse Theatre until 30 July 2005. Guys and Dolls is booking at the Piccadilly Theatre until 4 March 2006.