From Stage to Screen…and the West End – The Magic Combination

The sell out success of the recent show I directed for my local amateur musical theatre group has got me thinking about shows that sell, the current crop of shows in the West End and further on down the line the impact this has on amateurs.

The show I directed was Hairspray and it has broken all of our box office records. The show that previously held box office records was Sweeney Todd;..this of course got me thinking what does Hairspray and Sweeney Todd have in common…… the answer is clear – they have all be highly successful films with big celebrity names in them and both of them are recent West End transfers. I do realise that Sweeney Todd was a musical before it was a film but I’d hazard a guess that if the film wasn’t made it may not have been such a big seller for the society. People like to know what they are getting themselves into…… I look at the current crop of West End shows and the ‘big tickets’ at the moment- Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Les Miserables; The Commitments; Phantom of the Opera; Mamma Mia; Jersey Boys and the Lion King (the list could go on) they have all been a film……. in fact the only 3 big exceptions to this seem to be Miss Saigon, Wicked and Book of Mormon (Let’s face it the Book of Mormons publicity success story could fuel another blog post alone so I won’t go into this here).

The shows that appear to guarantee bums on seats for amateurs (and are therefore the shows they want to perform) are the big West End and movie hits. However is apparent that the shows that are being released to amateurs currently does not reflect this balance. Josef Weinberger is the biggest musical theatre rights holder in the UK so lets examine their general releases in the last year. These include…..Dogfight; Bonnie & Clyde, Lend Me A Tenor; Bring it On; The Pirate Queen; Sunshine on Leith, Looserville – none of which appear to have the magic movie/west end combo and in fact only 2 have even played in the west end (allbeit for a short run) Of course there are 2 exceptions – Hairspray and Sister Act….. It does however appear that this is the reverse of what we see in the West End – 2 out of 9 amateur releases in the last year have that magic combination compared to 8 out of 11 of the big tickets in the West End and with the current crop of West End shows continuing down this movie vein the trend only looks set to continue.

Well I know you are all thinking this is all very lovely but so what……. the big ‘so what’ is that lack of shows that appear to put bums on seats being released to amateurs means that audiences may be limited, if audiences are limited then this also means income is limited….. and with more and more amateur theatre groups closing due to lack of funding this really is an important issue. It also says a lot about the populations desire (or lack of it) to see new writing.

Please don’t misunderstand me I’m not saying that, in the amateur world, the only way to put bums on seats is to put on a show that has recently left the west end and has also been a fairly recent movie….I do appreciate there is a lot more too it than that but judging by how the tickets sold for Sweeney Todd and then seeing them literally fly for Hairspray it is certainly the easiest way to do it!

Now how to get the rights holders to release more of the magic movie/west end shows…… that’s another question!

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