Friday, 18 June 2010

Summertime...and you really shouldn't be putting on musicals

The Fantasticks- the long running off-Broadway one, not the non existent British one

So following the announcement of an early end for Hair, we now have the shock closure of The Fantasticks. This is particularly surprising as it holds the title for the longest running off Broadway show. It's starting to get a bit depressing really yet still producers insist on opening shows at the beginning of the Summer. In theory this is a good idea- schools are out, tourists are in and the evenings are lighter and warmer. But in practice it just doesn't work; so much for producers being realists. Last year we saw Spring Awakening and Too Close to the Sun close, this year the pattern of a direct Broadway smash hit and a London production have fallen foul of the curse. Why aren't the theories living up to the reality?

School's out, so what? Unless your show is aimed at young children, this won't help a bit. Few teenagers can afford to go to the theatre without help from their parents. And by their teenage years children don't particularly want to spend the evening with their parents. To get a show to stick with teenagers your PR department need to work damn hard. Spring Awakening didn't seem to have a publicity scheme- a few posters on the underground. Where was the mention of cheap onstage seats? Where were the appearances on T4 and the like? Whilst the show made a lasting impression on Broadway it will remain a long forgotten West End flop with a few loyal fans. A step back in the progression of the West End methinks.

Yes, I've probably used way to many pictures from Hair in this blog. But I like it so tough.

Hair, although having a very active publicity department got its target market completely wrong. For some reason Cameron Mackintosh aimed the show at himself- the middle aged person who like the show the first time round so, yeah, obviously wants to see it loads of times now. Perhaps Cameron was on drugs when he met with the PR company, surely a man who has made his money producing blockbuster shows couldn't make such an elementary mistake? All those I know who are interested in Hair are my age with a small but disposable income. We can afford the (barely mentioned) £25 day seats where you can't see much but have a great time but over £60 for a stalls seat plus more for a premium seat? No chance! Originally even group tickets only took £5 of this top price; because I know so many coach parties that want to see that show. Luckily they realised quite early on and have drastically reduced prices to a more student friendly figure.

Enough with deconstructing marketing plans, what about the theatre scene in the Summer? I've previously mentioned the influx of tourists, swarming around the ticket touts and discount booths. Although tourists are willing to pay extraordinary prices, they'll want to see the show their friends all saw, a well established show that London is famous for. That'll be Les Mis or Phantom, or if you're lucky Wicked. Once your show has become popular with the tourists you can stay open indefinitely. If, however, you attempt to do anything outside the parameters of big spectacles, a heart warming story and a happy ending, tourists will stay away. Unfortunately we on the West End have to separate art from economy meaning that very few "different" shows ever survive. It's sad but its unfortunately reality and just shows how the British treat the theatre.

It's finally got above 12 degrees (centigrade, I'm not actually American) and its May, so theoretically more people will be out and about and wanting to see a show. Wrong. Britain has a strange culture where at the sudden sight of sunshine, we remove most of our clothes and congregate in the nearest park. In the Winter its too cold and in the Summer its too hot, you can never win. In London it doesn't really matter that the evenings are lighter- there are so many street and shop lights it never gets completely dark. Plus most people will travel to the theatre on the underground- you can't even see the sky from there.

So what I'm trying to say is PR companies need to take a step back and look at the environment their show is going into. Is this really the right time for this show? Sure, if something delays opening, they'll be a few people like me who are disappointed but the show may last long enough for me to see it more than once. Win.

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