|All The Fun Of The Fair: jukebox hell or heavenly? |
Why God, Why: The Death Of The British Musical
Date: 21 January 2010
When What’s on Stage asked me to do this weekly blog my first thought was “what the hell am I gonna talk about” then I remembered the fact that all I seem to eat breathe and sleep is theatre, so my pieces each week will just be things that I’m thinking about at the time, so if I ramble I apologise in advance.
After working at the Manchester Palace for many years up until recently I became fascinated with the theatre and its history. One of the main things that fascinated me is how many times the Palace used to home out of town try outs, something which has all but vanished here in the UK. That led me to thinking why?
UK musicals seem to have ground to a halt recently, I can’t be the only person who’s noticed, it seems to be that unless it’s packed with music from the pop charts (Can’t Smile without You, All the Fun of the Fair, Dreamboats and Petticoats) or based on a hit film (Flashdance) they just don’t seem to happen.
If you walk around the West End you will notice a trend. Fantastic plays with 4 or 5 star review quotes on the marquee, American Musicals and the musical styling’s of those I previously mentioned, so what happened to the time when we ruled the world with our musicals such as Les Mis, Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera etc?
Over the past 2 years we have seen a few new British musicals pop up, Gone with the Wind, Imagine This, Too Close to the Sun and the underrated Bad Girls the musical, all of which closed so fast that the ink on the reviews had barely dried. The period when all we had to do was come up with a new musical and it would transfer to Broadway also seem to have vanished. Recently we just produce great revivals of American Works (La Cage, Sunday in the Park with George, A Little Night Music etc) and send them over. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we seem to be able to produce the American shows better than the Americans (just look at the Donmar production of Guys and Dolls that did so well yet got turned down by American producers in favour of their own production of the show which was a mess and flopped) it would just be nice to send some more of our new musicals that way as well.
In fact the only 2 musicals that have proved to be a smash hit success in recent years are Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins, both transferred to New York but both are based on popular source material and one of which was produced by Disney anyway.
So what exactly has happened?
I can’t help thinking that West End producers have just stopped taking the risks due to the ongoing failure of British musical. They know that in this time of economic crisis its best to put your money behind something that has ‘Family Friendly Hit’ written all over it than produce something which would have to rely on reviews and word of mouth to find an audience. Some people say that West End theatre is in a state, it’s all hen party shows and the familiar and accessible, I guess in some ways its true
The West End does appear to be full of fluff, some of it great fluff which does the job it sets out to do really well and some not so great. However with all our fluff where are our Next To Normals or Passing Strange. Why don’t we have the healthy balance that Broadway so often gets right? It’s not that the West End theatregoing audiences are not in search of intelligent entertainment as our brilliant plays do fantastic business here, yet when we got something (from America) that was edgy, contemporary and challenging called Spring Awakening it too died a death in the West End (though the producing errors did not help that show's fate).
Has the musical art form here in the UK just slipped in to the comfortable and easy listening mode directed at people who just want to have a fun night out? Have our plays become our versions of Next To Normal and Spring Awakening?
It would appear that’s the way it is and does not look set to change anytime soon, not until some brave producers throw caution to the wind and back the many new British musicals out there that are not based on a movie or filled with songs of a recording artists, but when they do, will the British audience embrace these new shows?
I hope sooner rather than later we see a shift and we get back to producing some great musicals, because if we produce many more jukebox shows we are going to run out of recording artists’ back catalogues to use and end up with a musical based around the songs of the Cheeky Girls, and nobody wants that... do they?
What do you guys think?
- Craig Hepworth
Any opinions expressed above do not represent the view of Whatsonstage.com nor any of its staff or contributors beyond the bylined author.
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|A very interesting piece that raises a lot of genuine points!
I personally agree with Craig. It does seem that only the high budget shows and the 'safe' options get the opportunities to perform at venues like the Palace and indeed Manchester Opera House.
Lets hope this changes soon, are you volunteering Craig?
- Dale||21 Jan 10|
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