It’s in my best interests as a theatre blogger to keep up to date with all the latest industry news, otherwise my columns each week would make for pretty weak reading. Aside from professional purposes though, I like to know what’s happening in the world of theatre, just to satisfy my ‘fan’ side. There’s always so much going on, in the West End alone. There are always shows opening and closing, cast changes and reviews coming in, and that alone is enough to keep you busy.
I usually focus my writing around a particular subject each time: Tuesday’s blog centred on Giggin4Good for example, while the connection between theatre and Doctor Who, and the debut albums of Rachel Tucker and Nadim Naaman were the topic in question for last week’s editions. Today though, I found it harder than usual to decide what to base my blog on. There have been a few theatre-related news events which have particularly caught my interest over the course of the week, so rather than choosing just one to focus on, I offer my musings on several topics. The first concerns the extended run of The Sound of Music at the Open Air Theatre.
Rachel Kavanaugh’s production of the classic musical opened at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park on 25th July 2013, and for the past three weeks has been delighting fans and critics alike. So much so in fact that its run has been extended by a week, now taking it through to 14th September 2013. The last ever musical by the golden duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Sound of Music has been around for over half a century. While it remains a popular show, it has been subjected to countless revivals and it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything new to be done with it. The Open Air Theatre have outdone themselves with their productions however. It has received an overwhelmingly positive response and been given 5* praise in numerous reviews. The Telegraph’s Tim Walker commented that: “It is hard to get Rodgers and Hammerstein’s old musical badly wrong, but this show manages to communicate its life-enhancing spirit unusually well. It pays proper attention, too, to the story of nuns and Nazis and a principled old Austrian hero and his seven melodic children, to the extent it packs, on occasion, a genuine emotional punch.”
Credit also must go to the show’s stars, 22-year-old Charlotte Wakefield who plays Maria and Michael Xavier, who is ‘handsomely princely’ as Captain von Trapp. Additionally, the entire company is comprised of strong performers, and the three rotating groups of youthful performers who make up the seven von Trapp children are the show’s secret weapon.
The winning combination of the cast and the show’s design and direction have led to The Sound of Music taking £1.75 million at the Box Office, cementing it as the venue’s biggest selling production in history. For a musical which has been around for so long to achieve this is a testament to both Rodgers and Hammerstein’s timeless creation, and the Open Air Theatre’s charming new interpretation. Taking this success into account, it seems inevitable that a West End transfer is on the horizon.
Moving away from established musicals however, there are rumours of a brand new show in the making. Producers of Glee have revealed that plans to turn the popular American TV series into a stage musical are underway. At this early stage, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether this actually happens or not, but the show certainly has the ideal ingredients to adapt it for the stage. Glee is set in an American high school and follows the lives of a group of students who join the school’s glee club. There is already a strong musical theatre presence in the show, most notably with the character Rachel Berry (played by Lea Michele) who dreams of making it on Broadway. The cast regularly break into song, and along with covers of songs by contemporary artists such as Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and John Mayer, there have been numerous musical theatre numbers from shows like The Rocky Horror Show, Grease, West Side Story, Chicago and A Chorus Line, not forgetting several performances of Barbra Streisand covers by Rachel Berry, who idolises the singer.
The TV series has been running since 2009, but its future is unclear following the death earlier this year of star Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson in the show. There are reportedly plans for a least two more series however. It’s a guilty pleasure for many people, including myself, I must admit; despite an abundance of auto-tuning and some truly terrible miming, I just can’t help watching. Network executive Gary Newman spoke out about a possible musical at 21st Century Fox’s Investor Day on 8th August 2013, saying: “We launched a live stage business with a sold-out arena concert tour in 2011,” he said. “And now a live stage musical is in the works.” Following an original run in America, the musical would likely transfer to our shores if it proved successful there. To be honest, I’m surprised this hasn’t been attempted sooner. It is the perfect model for a stage adaption after all.
One musical which has proved successful without any question is Schonberg and Boublil’s Les Miserables. Based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, the West End production has been going strong for nearly 28 years now, with no signs of its popularity waning. A film version was released in December 2012, starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, along with Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Samantha Barks (Eponine), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Aaron Tveit (Enjolras), Sacha Baron Cohen (Thernadier) and Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thernadier). Stage star Samantha Barks won the role following her praised performances as Eponine in both the West End production and the 25th anniversary concert at the O2 Arena.
The film pulled in more than £40 million nationally, and in a news report concerning the profits of Cineworld for the first half of 2013, was credited with the cinema chain’s increased box office sales, which were up by 10.5%. In the six months up to June 2013, they made £16.5 million. The success of the award-winning Les Miserables film was named as a big part of the reason, helped by other popular film releases such as Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness.
It’s wonderful to see a musical given the credit for this growing success. Typically, these film adaptions appeal mostly to musical theatre fans, but the Les Miserables film was an all-round hit and actually managed to benefit the stage musical too, with tickets selling like hot cakes after film-goers went to see the original production in the West End.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)