Sunday night was a joyous celebration of British Musical writing when MMD, Mercury Musical Development, celebrated 20 years of struggle and joy. And this morning I had an email from a colleague who 34 years ago was part of the first musical theatre revue at EdFringe for which I operated follow-spot. Over The Rainbow was directed by Keith Warner now better know for his Ring Cycle at the ROH. Over those 34 years I have helped to create the first festival of musicals (Buxton 1992), a network for writers and producers, various courses and conferences.
Last night at The Novello we were able to cheer achievement and potential. Now some real work is needed to build on it - supported with Arts Council NPO funding and a realisation from theatres, producers and audiences that there are British contemporary voices to be championed. Why has it taken 34 years ? And what doubts and dissenting voices still play in my head which questionn whether we have a new dawn ?
Well what might need exploration:
a) Musicals are escapist and fluffy. Drama tackles real issues. And deserves the respect of the cogniscenti.
b) Musicals cost 10 times more than a play (to quote one artistic director of note) and so they have to be done sparingly in the overall repertoire.
c). Where is the spectacle and helicopter. Musicals have to be massive to get audiences.
d). We have few names above the title who will sell tickets so we either do ensemble shows or sell the logo.
e). We have no dedicated reps or touring companies doing musicals so the infrastrure is limited for a path.
So there are 5 challenges for the new Conference on Musical Theatre to tackle today. They may not have been cracked in 34 years yet but Sunday was a joy and a celebration and a reinforcement of what has been achieved.
If everyone working in the business and cheering the business now works together with Musical Theatre Network and Mercury Musical Development then the next 3 to 4 years could make the last 34 seem like history.
I look forward to celebrating with Keith and Steve and my colleagues from Bristol in 2018 on the 40th anniv of Over The Rainbow. We can cheer with Greg Doran and others of Bristol Revunions and Andy Jordan of Bristol Express both still making great theatre. We'll be a bit older, a bit wiser, but still childlike in our love of the arts.