Katy Lipson: 'We're running out of shows to revive, new musicals are the future'

We caught up with one of the busiest producers in the UK to get her views on the country’s new musicals scene

Katy Lipson
Katy Lipson

Katy Lipson is a London-based producer and the leading force behind the From Page to Stage festival of new musical theatre. As the festival moves to The Other Palace this year we caught up with her to find out more about her views on new musicals in the UK, her work with the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester and whether we can expect to see The Addams Family in the West End.

From Page to Stage has moved to The Other Palace. How did that come about and what does that mean to you and the festival?
I met with Andrew [Lloyd Webber] and he said 'we'd love to have you present in our theatre because we're absolutely about the same thing'. It's obviously fantastic for me, it's a wonderful theatre, it's highly respected and it highlights a growth for me. From the Landor to the Tristan Bates and now to The Other Palace, a theatre that's considered Off-West End rather than just Fringe.

It feels like there's a new wave of support and interest in new musicals, is that the case from your perspective?
Yes. I think people are realising that they're going to run out of titles to revive. Everybody knows that it's a new musical that can run and run rather than a revival. Theatres, especially the NPOs and regional theatres with funding, are investing more in original work, we're seeing more of it in Sheffield, Manchester and the National.

The UK has a really good support system for new musicals at grassroots level, but when you look to America and you see the likes of Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, it seems like they're much better at getting new work to a bigger stage…
America's a huge country, and with Come From Away, although it is Canadian, its commercial path has been ingrained in not-for-profit theatres. It allowed them to build a brand for the show, gaining momentum in each state – some of which are bigger than our whole country – so they have the ability to have a lot of people see the show and build the brand for those shows before they hit Broadway. We can't just do a show in Sheffield or Chichester and expect that same response.

Do you think there's more appetite for musicals in America?
Absolutely. The demographic of theatregoers going to see a show on Broadway is largely dominated by American tourists, and I think going to see a new musical is something that's ingrained in American blood. Whereas in London, sure the international tourists go and see Wicked and Les Mis, but the British audiences are more likely to see a National Theatre transfer because musicals are not as ingrained in our culture.

As part of FPTS you're premiering new work by Burt Bacharach and Steven Sater, how did that come about?
I was talking to Andrew Lippa's agent who also looks after Steven, we set up a meeting and talked about his work and he mentioned Some Lovers. I told him we were also doing Promises, Promises and it just evolved from there. I went to meet Burt in LA a couple of months ago to tell him about the plans for it and he was very excited about it.

Are you planning for it to have another life after the festival?
Absolutely.I believe in all the work I programme – there's 12 new works in the festival, not including the showcases, and it's the perfect vehicle for me to find international pieces to focus on. In two years I only want to be presenting the world or European premiere of new musicals. I would love Some Lovers to go on, I've invested a lot of time and money in it, I believe it has the potential, and although it's a Bacharach score it's a four-hander and champions everything about being a chamber musical.

Away from FPTS you've been incredibly busy. Tell us about your work at Hope Mill Theatre…
I was looking for a space to do Parade and the boys invited me in to have a look at their new venue. After Parade, I became the resident producer there and we did Hair and then Yank. We then decided that with my capacity to bring titles to the table that I'd become co-artistic director there. I'm committed to five shows with them next year and we're going to be focussing on British musicals. Ultimately it's going to be my ground for developing new shows that I'm commissioning, starting them off there like a mini-Menier that we're in charge of.

How is the musical theatre audience in Manchester?
The response has been very moving actually. A lot of them have never experienced fringe theatre before, they don't know how powerful the experience is, seeing a show three foot away from you. They love it and we're very proud of how we've grown.

You transferred Yank to the Charing Cross Theatre and Hair is coming in October, are you planning to bring Pippin to London?
Absolutely, if it has the same reaction and Mr Stephen Schwartz is happy with it, why not? We've produced it in a way that it will suit a very specific venue, so I'm excited to investigate that. I'm chatting to theatres now about their availability. Same as with Little Women, we'd love to bring our UK premiere production to London too.

You mention venues, would you agree that there's a lack of suitable spaces in London for fringe transfers?
We need more theatres in London like the Duchess, The Other Palace and Arts Theatre. A lot of shows on the fringe can sustain runs in venues of that size but wouldn't be able to in bigger theatres. I think it's happening though, Nica Burns is building a new theatre on Charing Cross Road, Cameron Mackintosh is turning the Ambassadors into the Sondheim which will house transfers and help companies get that well-earned West End credit.

Finally, everyone I speak to wants to know, will The Addams Family be coming into the West End?
That's the plan. Watch this space!

From Page to Stage runs at The Other Palace until 3 September, Hair runs at the Vaults from 11 October to 14 January 2018, The Toxic Avenger runs at the Arts Theatre from 28 September to 3 December, Pippin runs at the Hope Mill Theatre from 25 August to 27 September, and The Addams Family continues on tour until 3 December.