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Cheap Musicals

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This is time last year the editor asked reviewers to nominate the shows in 2012 to which they were most looking forward. It wasn’t easy. There were no festivals such as the Manchester International scheduled and a sinister trend was noticeable. Most of the big touring shows were repeats. And not just any old repeat – productions that had visited in the just the previous season were already coming back.

It’s easy to guess why – producers made desperate by the recession anticipate a found audience who missed out the first time around. But for anyone who wants new material it’s a worrying trend especially when, of the few new productions, one features Bonnie Langford and another has music by Green Day.

Actually it wasn’t an issue for me and I was surprised to find it gave me a new opportunity. I’m not a fan of big musicals anyway. To avoid offending potential audiences the composer aims for the middle of the road which is bland for my tastes. Besides, I always feel ripped-off by the experience.

 I’ve lived in the region all my life and long learned that the biggest disappointment possible is to go and see a touring version of a West End hit. You get to see a troupe of professional singers and dancers desperately holding back so as not to embarrass the telly star who sings flat and dances worse but has been cast because it’s expected in the provinces. And the sets! You pay a fortune and get to see people emoting in front of walls that look like they going to fall down. Amateur companies like Manchester Stage Experience seem able to beg, steal or borrow decent sets so if they can make an effort why can’t the pros?

So rather than feel a mug for paying the ticket prices I just stay away. But avoiding the shows the first time around turned out to be opportune this year. If you looked there were some really good reductions on ticket prices and, trust me, I looked. The only thing I like more than a good show is a bargain so I ended up seeing a decent but sterile South Pacific, a fun Legally Blonde and a bland Sister Act for £20 or less. It’s worth paying those prices just to satisfy your curiosity even if the shows aren’t satisfying in themselves.

It’s an approach I’m going to pursue in the future. After all who pays full price for DVDs these days when you know in advance they’ll be marked down in the local supermarket in a couple of months? It’s just a matter of having the patience to wait and endure the initial dull months until the shows return.

Things look brighter for next year. Wicked and War Horse are touring and I’m quite looking forward to seeing them. In 2014.

- Dave Cunningham


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