The International Writers Magazine: The Musical - Dying on
down, relax, close your eyes and take yourself back to the first
time you ever stepped into a theatre. Can you remember what show
you saw that day? Silly question, of course you can. Back in those
days the vibe that surrounded new and original musicals were irrepressible.
From Jason Donovan
and then Phillip Schofield headlining Joseph to Willy Russells
Blood Brothers and the American hit Grease.
For me, however, it was Oliver at the London Palladium directed
at that time by Sam Mendes. The combination of being so close to the
performers along with the energetic song and dance routines catapulted
me into a world whereby I wished I were on that stage there and then
as the cheeky Artful Dodger. Im sure many of you came
out of your first musical theatre experience wanting to do exactly the
Fast-forward your mind to January 2005 and musicals seem to be in trouble.
People love to go to a show and dance in the aisles, so it has to be
entertaining but the standard seems to be waning, which is due to the
significant increase of film and television stars in lead roles and
the pressure on producers to make money. To present any new, truly original
musical is a big risk nowadays. Confidence is sought by the need to
have cast members flying around the auditorium or using the back catalogue
of a famous band as the shows score, which can be marketed as reasons
alone for booking tickets. Heaven forbid, that audiences should come
purely because the music is superb and the performances brilliant.
Budgets are rising all the time, which in itself makes producers less
likely to take a risk on some exceptional but unknown concept. And of
course, one of the reasons budgets are escalating is because modern
day audiences are hooked into the expectation of the spectacle and star
performer. They want to see a well-known actor of the big screen surrounded
by laser lighting and computerised effects during the show, and then
afterwards run around to the Stage Door trying to harass the poor soul
into autographs and pictures.
In the last year
alone we have seen the likes of Hasselhoff, Soul and an array of Where
Are They Now? television and pop stars take to the stage generating
some indifferent results. Hollywood legend Richard Dreyfuss didnt
even make it to the opening night of The Producers before
he was replaced by Nathan Lane. Sally-Ann Triplett, star of Cole Porters
recently finished hit Anything Goes, believes that "people
are starting to go because a shows got a big set or that bloke
from The Bill in it." However, I'd argue that after all that, money
and stars do not always equal high production values.
Although this new wave of musicals have brought some success stories
with Jerry Springer The Opera and We Will Rock
You being notable examples, I'd like to see more support for original
musical theatre. Pieces of art that aren't jumping on the latest bandwagons
are seeking to create quality productions that aim to break new ground.
But unless the support is there, those musicals won't happen. Equally
concerned is musical mogul Andrew Lloyd Webber who stated on David Frosts
BBC programme that "the one thing weve got to get going in
musical theatre is new writers. I think its very, very important
that we get as much new talent into it as possible."
However, in the not-so-distant future Lord of the Rings,
Bend It Like Beckham, Shrek and shows using
the hit records of Wham and Bob Marley are scheduled to be treading
the boards in Londons West End. Whats that I hear you say?
Youve got to be kidding? To be honest with you, I wish I were.
Towards the end of 2004, Channel 4 viewers witnessed the reality programme
Musicality where a panel of expert judges whittled down
thousands of amateur wannabes to just five who then got the chance
to act in a one-off special performance of Chicago at Londons
Adelphi Theatre. I must wonder if the state of the West End really is
in such need of a helping hand that the only way we are going to find
new and exciting performers is through a television-based talent competition.
Taking nothing away from the worthy winners of the show, two of whom
have already found themselves signing contracts with Chicago
and Saturday Night Fever, we must look and ponder if the
West End is starting to loose sight of its famous theatrical values
it prides itself on.
Nevertheless, we thankfully do get a small dose of innovative and exhilarating
new musicals. The Woman In White by Lloyd Webber and Bat
Boy The Musical are fitting examples and later this year
Broadway successes Guys and Dolls and Hairspray
will be making their West End premieres. They make a fresh change enabling
us not to have to sit through constantly corny revivals of Grease
without wanting to make us sprint for the door marked clearly with an
exit sign. I dearly hope that in the future the West End can revel in
a series of inventive musical extravaganzas where the public flocks
to the auditorium to witness a showcase of pioneering productions.
there you have it, my own take on the modern day culture of musical
theatre. By the way, you can open your eyes now, sorry about that.
Wait a second whats this? Touch My Bum The Musical
Spectacular, based on the greatest hits of The Cheeky Girls.
Oh no, I think you better shut them again. It could be a bumpy ride.
© Alex Segal Jan 2005
Breakfast with Frost. (2000, January). Interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Dress Circle. (not known). Retrieved December 22, 2004, from http://www.dresscircle.co.uk.
Musicality. (2004). Retrieved January 02, 2005, from Channel 4 Ideas
Oliver. Official Souvenir Programme. (1994).
Theatre news. (not known). Retrieved December 25, 2004, from Whats
On Stage: http://www.whatsonstage.com.
The Stage. (December 23, 2004).
Triplett, S. A. (2003). The Big Interview: Sally Ann Triplett. Retrieved
December 22, 2004 from Official London Theatre: http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/news/biginterview/display?contentId=73723.
Alex is a Creative Arts student at the School of Creative Arts, Media
and Film - Portsmouth University