I try not to complain, I leave that to other facets of my personality: Derek Bluebottom (my depression), Jasper Mountbatter III (my ego) and Colin Shitsmearer (my envy). This frees me up to be a more positive influence on the world around me. Whilst the other bits of my personality are:
1. Wondering what the point of it all is (Derek)
2. Shouting incredibly loudly about how brilliant I am (Jasper)
3. On their way around to fellow composers/lyricists houses to break their fingers (Colin)
I am able to spend some time alone in my flat wondering how I can contribute in a small way to the new musical theatre community in the UK.
So today, whilst the rest of my personality is out and about, I thought I'd talk about something that goes right to the heart of one of the great challenges that UK Musical Theatre faces. Namely this:
HOW ARE WE ABLE TO GET MORE MUSICAL THEATRE BY UK MUSICAL THEATRE WRITERS PRODUCED?
"What a fascinating question!" I hear you say.
"Why thank you!" I reply.
Well in order to answer my question, I've done a little research...
In 2019, The population of West End Musical Theatre looks like this:
9 x duke box musicals (built from a catalogue of pre-written songs)
1 x Sondheim (written by an American musical theatre legend)
10 x US Broadway musical theatre career artists (artists who've made their name through MT)
2 x Disney shows (who doesn't love Disney?)
3 x Andrew Lloyd Webber Shows (Unsurprising given that he owns a bunch of the theatres)
2 x Cameron Mackintosh Mega Hit (Les Miserables continues to run and Mary Poppins returns)
Book of Mormon (I couldn't categorise this, written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone with Bobby Lopez - writer of Avenue Q)
Only Fools and Horses: The Musical (by British writers who as far as I can tell are not career musical theatre writers)
2 x British Musicals written by pop stars/comedians/playwrights (Matilda and Everybody's Talking About Jamie)
2 British Musicals written by UK musical theatre career artists (SIX and Where is Peter Rabbit)
PHEW! Very good work. What does any of that mean for us? Let's do some calculations shall we?
Out of a total of 33 West End Musicals:
33% of West End Musicals are written by UK or European Writers
67% of West End Musicals are written by American or Canadian Writers
6% are by UK Musical Theatre Career Artists
30% are by Broadway Musical Theatre Career Artists
So what's the headline? What's the big takeaway here... it's something I've long suspected...
A mere 6% of West End Musicals in 2019 are by UK artists who have chosen the art of writing musical theatre as their career.
As I mentioned I'm not here to complain about it, that's not the point of this post. The point is that clearly something needs to change. And I want to help make that change happen.
First I suppose we need to understand why this has happened? Why are Broadway's career artists dominating the musical scene on our home turf. There are numerous reasons for this, historical, individual and difficult that I'm not going to go into as that's a much larger, longer and in-depth post and I don't have time before Derek, Jasper and Colin come back and start shouting at me...
Suffice to say that Broadway producers regularly take risks on new musical theatre, audiences in New York embrace new musical theatre and there are a large number of highly lucrative financial awards that support career artists and help them develop their shows. The landscape of the West End is vastly different when it comes to new musical theatre, it has essentially become a home for Broadway transfers and Juke Box musicals (if you're looking for West End musical transfers to Broadway keep looking...)
So how is the UK supposed to compete with the high quality shows that are coming from Broadway writers?
The simple answer is... we can't. Unless we begin to change our game.
There is one person who lies at the heart of this change... a single solitary soul...
That person is... you guessed it... It's YOU you lucky ol' thing you!
If you're reading this you're probably a fan of musical theatre, so you probably know about the big transfers coming into The West End this year, Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, Waitress etc. You might be less aware of the fact that there is actually a decent amount of new musical theatre being written by UK musical theatre writers, it's just that you won't see them on the West End stage. You'll have to look a little harder, to dig a little deeper, but they are there. London's fringe and the UK's regional theatre's are regularly producing new musical theatre by British artists. We are fortunate in that we have wonderful support communities for new writers such as the fantastic MMD Mercury Musical Developments and BML Book Music & Lyrics. Events like BEAM 2018 and the SIGNAL New Musical Theatre evenings curated by Adam Lenson at The Hospital Club prove beyond a doubt that there is huge talent lurking beneath the surface...
But to make a show viable for the West End is an entirely different matter and it really comes down to audiences. If you can sell out a West End theatre then your show is a viable West End transfer. It's as simple as that. But it's difficult enough to sell out a small fringe venue for a three week run, let alone generate the audience power needed to sustain a West End commercial venue for six months. So to be perfectly frank, it's not really up to the producers, it's not up to the theatre's or the marketers...
It's up to us as audience members.
If we want a West End that is going to have more original British musical theatre on it's stages then we have to do everything we can to support the work of those writers whenever their work is produced on the Fringe.
I recently announced a new production of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at The Southwark Playhouse. This is not based on the movie, but the original short story by F.Scott Fitzgerald. About 150 people liked that post (thanks guys!) And if all of those people came along to the show they'd sell out the theatre for an evening...
So what would happen if each of those 150 people, brought 10 of their friends with them? Does that sound like an impossible task? I went to Wasted (a new musical by Chris Ash and Carl Miller) at Southwark last year and I brought 11 of my friends with me that night. It's not impossible, it takes a little bit of organisation but it's not difficult and we ended up having a brilliant evening with a brilliant show and hanging with out as mates.
That would be more than a thousand people watching a new British musical for less than half the price that you would pay at a West End theatre with a far better view of the action. What's not to like?
If we as audiences support the new work that is being made by UK career artists now then the producers will begin to notice it as well.
So, if you want to see a change in the landscape of new musicals on the West End as much as I do, then there's now something you can do about it. Get your youth theatre together, get your amateur operatic society together, get your family and friends together and go and see a new British musical on the fringe or in the regional theatres. Let's start selling these bad boys out. I regularly tweet about the new shows that are appearing on the fringe and in the regions so look out for them and get yourself a posse.
Ah, dear I can see Derek at the door looking incredibly miserable, the rest of my personalities are coming home so I better get the dinner on. I'll leave you to it Sunday!
Disclaimer: Obviously not all shows are meant for the West End stage nor should they be, but some most certainly are and the only way we're going to get them there is by going to see them and bringing everybody we know with us.