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March of the Marketing Nightmares.

November 9, 2011

TheWest End more or less has musicals suitable for every taste. The young teenage market have “Wicked” and “Legally Blonde.” Older teenagers and twenty-somethings’ get “Rock Of Ages;” by 30 the mature “Les Misérables” satisfies and “Chicago” provides sophistication for those wanting something lighter. “Ghost” takes care of those 50+ “Kids old enough to fend for themselves for one evening” and then the sublime “Crazy For You” mops up the older crowd with a modern take on the old fashioned song and dance tuner.

Stereotyping? Yes, and to make a point. “Shrek,” “The Lion King,” “The Wizard of Oz” and now “Matilda The Musical.” All “just for children” right? Wrong. Each is a highly sophisticated show created using the latest theatrical techniques by a cast and creative team who take these multi-million pound spectaculars as seriously as if it were their own multi-million pounds on the line.

The trouble is convincing adult audiences that these are more than just “something to take the kids to during school holidays.” Combine this with ticket prices that have parents wondering whether to sue the London Rubber Company retrospectively for maintenance contributions, and the result is the title “Marketing Nightmares.”

And yet… should we be slightly worried by the ‘infantalisation’ of theWest End? A decade or more ago the West End was home only to musicals of adult appeal. Rogers and Hammerstein, Bock and Harnick, Kander and Ebb, Boublil and Schoenberg, Lloyd Webber and Whoever. All producing shows that may not have had particularly sophisticated stories, but had a complexity that firmly put them in the category of “babysitter required.”

Current marketing theory has it, I guess, that selling four seats is better than two. Combined with that, many producers take an “average” for production income. This means that they may well budget for being packed to the rafters 13 weeks per year plus weekends – and not worry too much about the tumbleweed cleared from the stalls Monday to Thursday during term time.

It’s always better to have a theatre open than closed, but just how depressing is it to attend a theatre where at least one circle isn’t in use, and the ‘house has been dressed’ by dotting audience members around the remaining seats to make it look busy?

Adding to that the impression from listings magazines that London theatre is the home of kids DVD to stage transfers and it isn’t perhaps the easiest proposition to sell any more.

Some of the above shows I’ve seen and absolutely loved – they fall easily into the “too good for children at any time” category. Some I found just plain dull for anybody, adult or child. None, to be fair, I thought were absolutely “child only” (more often NOT for young children, in fact). It’s just that it would be nice to see a few more titles that promise more of an “occasion” night out, that’s all.

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