I am not proud of this but I have to admit: I am a Melissa Benoist superfan. The star of the CW show, Supergirl, Benoist first rose to prominence when she joined the cast of a fading Glee and was charming and low-key in stark contrast to Lea Michele’s increasingly needy and pushy headline performance (IMHO).
I would have just called myself a fan -- I tune into Supergirl every week; again, I am not proud -- until the ads started popping up promoting her planned stint in Broadway’s BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL. I immediately started figuring out how to convince my wife that a trip to NYC to see that show was a priority for our summer plans.
This was not rational behavior. I knew it intellectually and I internally scoffed at myself for the thoughts I was having. Still, it was not long before there was an email in my in-box with two tickets to BEAUTIFUL attached.
Fandom is sometimes unfathomable. Benoist is a great singer and a good actor, but she’s not Celine Dion or Meryl Streep. I know that and yet I’m ridiculously delighted that I’ll get to see her live. I think sometimes devotion to an artist comes from feeling like you appreciated or discovered them before anyone else. No one was watching Glee when Benoist started and so, in part, I felt that her landing the Supergirl role was a validation of my appreciation.
Fandom is also tricky. I know millions of fans have had to wrestle with their feelings for artists like Kanye West and Roseanne Barr in recent months because artists are people and sometimes they confuse, disappoint or just don’t live up to expectations.
There is a small cohort of Richmond artists who have developed a base of superfans. After seeing our production of PRELUDES this past week, I thought about people who are devoted to an artist like Georgia Rogers Farmer. Georgia has a well-earned posse of followers at least in part thanks to her sell-out cabarets where she is delightfully easygoing and disarmingly funny, in addition to being an unbelievably talented singer/performer. Will the superfans who come see her in a role where she is more understated appreciate her flexibility in tackling a different kind of character or will they be disappointed? (And who would have thought that composer Dave Malloy knew to put a bacon reference into a song just for her?)
The vicissitudes of fandom also came up this past week when the New York Post talked about movie studios looking for actors who had a significant number of followers on social media. The model has traditionally been that people become famous and that gains them followers. Has the era of Instagram flipped that dynamic so that people have to first gain followers in order to be famous? It’s very confusing.
The indisputability of my superfandom for Benoist initially made me uneasy: it seems somehow misplaced or juvenile. Or was there a more complicated psychology around it: Was I subconsciously using her as a stand-in and amalgamation of my daughters, who in real life demonstrate the kind of tenacity, talent and heart that I project onto the fictional characters Benoist has played?
Luckily, I happened upon this article that, with it’s assertion that fans are happier and better critical thinkers, eased my troubled mind, at least enough to admit to this specific enthusiasm in this public forum. As I said, I’m not exactly proud of my superfandom, but for now, I’ll accept it as a not atypical human tendency. And I hear BEAUTIFUL is a pretty awesome show besides.