Update: Jerry Stays Open Pending Libel DecisionDate: 29 October 2004
NOTE: This story has now been updated with further direct comment from Avalon producer Jon Thoday.
Expected to post notices at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre this week, Avalon Promotions, producers of Jerry Springer - The Opera, has announced today that the show will in fact not be closing – at least not before mid-December when a decision is due to be delivered from the High Court about their libel action against the Daily Mail newspaper (See News, 26 Oct 2004).
In January, columnist Richard Kay wrote that the multi award-winning musical was losing £40,000 a week at the box office and would soon shut. After box office accounts were presented, the newspaper printed an apology in which Kay admitted that not only was he wrong but that the “hugely popular” show was indeed “making a healthy profit” (See The Goss, 12 Mar 2004). Nevertheless, on legal advice, Avalon pressed ahead in seeking damages of around £440,000. In various media reports over the past week, Avalon’s Jon Thoday has blamed the show’s current precarious state on the cost of the lawsuit, which has prevented them from properly promoting the show this autumn.
However, in a bullish statement released today, Thoday said: “We have told Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company Really Useful Theatres (the owners of the Cambridge Theatre) that the show will not be closing. A final decision as to the future of Jerry Springer - The Opera will not be taken until the show’s case with the Daily Mail is heard on 13 December 2004. In the meantime, we would like to thank everyone who has made it possible to continue the run: the creative team, the writers and, most importantly, the public who are voting with their feet. We are determined not to allow this to kill the show.”
The press release went on to point out that since the Daily Mail labelled it “a disaster”, the show been seen by more than 348,000 people, clocking up 503 performances and 347 standing ovations in addition to four Best Musical prizes at the Olivier, Critics’ Circle, Evening Standard and Whatsonstage.com’s own Theatregoers’ Choice Awards.
Speaking to Whatsonstage.com today, Thoday explained in more detail the week’s developments: “We’ve managed to stay open because we received support from the creative team and we made a huge cut in our marketing spend. Big West End musicals have to spend between £1.5 and £2 million a year on marketing. We’ve had to reduce ours to almost nothing. But, most of all, we’ve managed to stay open because, as people have found out about the show’s troubles, they’ve booked more tickets. It seems that audiences don’t want to see one of the first original musicals in the West End for years to close.”
Following its initial sell-out run at the National, the musical, written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, transferred on 10 November 2003 (previews from 14 October) to the West End. Analysing box office figures today, Thoday told Whatsonstage.com: “More people paid to see the show in week 53 than they did in week one. This week we’ve played to about 59% - we might even sell out tonight – and week 54 is looking a lot better still.”
Avalon and the Daily Mail aren’t the only ones in disagreement over the repercussions from the original diary piece. It has also contributed to a breakdown in relations between Avalon and its co-producer, the Los Angeles-based Allan McKeown, who, in numerous communications to Whatsonstage.com this week (See The Goss, 27 Oct 2004), has asserted that he did not endorse the lawsuit.
“Avalon, acting alone, chose to bring a defamation action against the newspaper,” said McKeown, an assertion that Avalon firmly disputes. “The costs of any action are the sole responsibility of Avalon, should not be charged to the production nor affect the marketing of the show.” Because of the clash over the court case and what he describes as the production’s “problems of scale” which “have not as yet been addressed” since leaving the National, where Jerry Springer premiered in April 2003, McKeown ended his financial and management involvement in the show when the original cast finished their contracts this past July (See The Goss, 7 Jul 2004).
In the current company, Starsky and Hutch’s David Soul (pictured) takes the title role of the controversial American chat show host. Jerry Springer is currently booking at the Cambridge Theatre up to October 2005. In addition to its West End future, the show’s planned American transfer – to San Francisco and New York next year – is also uncertain. To mount the show on Broadway alone costs an estimated $11 million. McKeown has passed on his option so alternative American investors are now being sought by Avalon.
- by Terri Paddock