This week Emily, our Marketing Assistant talks new British musicals and why we should support them...
Like many weekends previously, this past weekend I sheltered from the British summertime rain, curled up on my sofa, and watched Perfect Pitch's LIFT and From Up Here, recently added to Digital Theatre Plus Collections.
This got me thinking about new British writing and its success (or otherwise) in the industry. Prior to working at Digital Theatre Plus, I was lucky enough to work in a West End theatre so I've seen pretty much everything that’s been in the West End in the past five years.
From Les Mis to Viva Forever!, I’ve sat through many hours of theatre, some I’ve liked and some I’ve not. The thing that strikes me most is the amount of new British musicals which haven’t made it past a six-month to a year run. Is it because audiences aren’t willing to try something new? Are theatres too big? Is it simply too expensive to make a new musical work?
In my opinion, one of the best shows to grace London in the past couple of years was From Here to Eternity, the epic Tim Rice musical about Pearl Harbour. In his closing night speech, after about a six-month run, Tim Rice said, "And to those of you who have lost money: don’t worry, I’ve lost an awful lot more," to a laugh from the audience and the cast. It’s funny when an Academy Award-winning lyricist, who penned the lyrics to The Lion King, Aladdin, Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat, Chess, Evita, Aida etc. makes a joke about losing money. But what of those unknown writers or those just trying to break into the industry? How do they get their break in a market where audiences don’t seem too keen to try new things?
Last week, I saw Sunny Afternoon, the Kinks musical, starring the Olivier-Award winning George Maguire who also features in LIFT. The show started life at the Hampstead Theatre and transferred to the West End to critical acclaim, and awards aplenty. The show has the advantage of recognisable songs, but even so it’s a triumph of a new British musical which leads the pack at the minute.
On the other hand, in the past year or so I’ve also seen Viva Forever!, Stephen Ward, Made In Dagenham and I Can’t Sing - The X-Factor Musical, all of which had their runs cut short. What is it about new musicals which makes it hard for them to survive in the world where Les Mis and Phantom are king?
I’ve read lots of articles recently about this and how we can support new music. One suggests that shows that begin in a fringe setting have more success than those who head straight to the West End, but ultimately it comes down to organisations such as Perfect Pitch who help writers get their work heard.
Perfect Pitch do excellent work in helping get new musicals to the stage. From Up Here, for example, was written by Aaron Lee Lambert, an American actor who’s currently treading the boards as understudy John in Miss Saigon. From Up Here tells the story of five strangers who find solace on the Brooklyn Bridge; an example of a brilliant musical, supported and brought to life with the help of Perfect Pitch.
Similarly, LIFT, which stars a hugely recognisable West End cast, had an incredibly successful run at the Soho Theatre in London, again supported by Perfect Pitch. Perfect Pitch help with all aspects of getting a musical to the stage but, most importantly, in doing so they help to produce work which otherwise wouldn’t have an audience.
And I guess that’s my point. By supporting new musicals and writing, you may see something you’ll be willing to forget or you may see the next Billy Elliot. But, most importantly, you’ll see it. Every show has to start somewhere.