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Do we have a “Big Theatre” problem?

February 11, 2015

A few years ago, it seemed there were a dozen massive musicals all desperately trying to find the largest theatres they could in the West End.

Now,  I’d say, the situation has reversed, and owners are struggling to find something permanent for our biggest venues. Ever since “I Can’t Sing” at the London Palladium last year, it just looks as if productions have suddenly become aware of the risks, and the money to stage such spectacles isn’t quite so forthcoming.

Evidence? The two biggest and best located theatres in London – the Dominion and Palladium – both have “dance shows” booked in for fairly short seasons, and the Dominion a “seasonal show” after that. Nothing wrong with dance or family seasonal shows – the big stages are required for such productions… but it’s not the same as housing a vast long-running musical.

Theatre is full of rumours, many of which are not true or based on fact yet come to nothing. By rumour of fact, “Back to the Future” should be booking at the Dominion, and “Pippin” flying over from Broadway to the Palladium. Neither have happened, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future. The only bright spot is that Disney may take the Palladium or Dominion for “Aladdin,” which could be good news… in 2016.

The fight instead is for space in the “mid sized” houses – those which most closely match Broadway theatres at the 1400 to 1600 seat size. Open a show at the Adelphi or Savoy and you’d better have a hit – because there’s a string of shows breathing down your neck and ready…

It’s quite odd in that a large stage is a stage which costs the same to fill with a set and actors for a musical. Yes, staff wages and rental costs of the venue are higher, but you have more seats to sell and can do so at lower prices while achieving as good a revenue stream as any other venue. And if you have a hit, you can recoup more quickly…

Maybe it’s more a prestige thing. A hit at a huge venue is bigger than any other, a failure a bigger disaster than quietly sneaking out of a less famous house.

Of course, it’s really the fact that investors are now gambling with £5 million or so – and negotiating to raise that money with 20 or so backers who insist on being called “producers” along with the hundreds of individual small “angel” investors who put up £5000 for the sheer love of what they do.

I’m just hoping things change again, and the big musical comes back into fashion. After all, “Cats” did very well at short notice in a vast venue last December, so maybe it’ll restore some badly needed confidence and give the West End the headlining big shows in the big theatres that we can all be so proud of.

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