I read someone recently on one of the AussieTheatre.com forums comment that this is a boom time for musicals in Australia – WRONG!!
A few shows coming into cities (and some of them new musicals getting an off-off-off Broadway tryout) does not constitute a boom time. In fact, all theatre managements are struggling at the moment and seeing two shows fail and fold in the last eight weeks is only the tip of the iceberg for what is likely to come.
The world wide financial crisis that so many ignorant Australians believed hasn’t or wont affect Australia is affecting Australia. The fact that the early days of it were offset by a clever and fast acting government and a very healthy economy has not made many people realise that, economically, the worst is yet to come. Theatre has sailed pretty clear of much of the worst of the economic world wide problems up until now. But the public are now realising things are not looking good, are tightening their belts and the first thing to be hit is entertainment.
There is enormous resistance to paying $135+ for a theatre ticket in this current climate and producers have really pushed the envelope in trying to encourage audiences to believe a theatre ticket this price is the norm for this day and age. It is in New York (less in London) but Australia is not a theatre capital and audiences are resisting top ticket prices more and more. Producers will (rightly) tell us that top prices have to be in this high end if a show can possibly make any money. It is true, but theatre, particularly commercial theatre always suffers in tough times. The last few years have seen some big hit shows succeed here- Billy Elliot, Wicked, Mary Poppins and Jersey Boys have all lead people to believe that Australians will pay big bucks for musicals. But it has to be the right musical with the right pedigree, these shows all had that (though some struggled with elongated seasons that should have been shorter).
As an agent I am amazed at the amount of auditions for shows in the last six months. If you were judging a meter of success for the future, you would surely think from the hustle and bustle of auditions that music theatre was thriving with new and revival shows coming in aplenty. Some of the auditions have been ridiculously far in advance, auditioning for a musical that wont open for 18 months to 2 years seems ludicrous in any market and it is some of these much advanced productions that have clouded reality to make people think there is going to be work aplenty.
Actors are always the ones who suffer most through this: preparing and working on an audition for a show that oft times never happens. It’s devastating (and financially difficult) when a show fizzles out somewhere between getting the role and seeing it eventuate in the future. I sadly predict this will be the case for some of these upcoming shows. The entertainment dollar can be spread so far, the current economic climate will dictate more and more which shows will see the light of day and which will, (like the press release for the killing of the Rock of Ages Sydney season says), be “postponed”! Now there is a word: how often has a show with poor advance ever been “postponed”? They just drift permanently off the map.
I hate writing this, I would like to say that the future looks rosey, but the poor ticket sales for Hairspray and Rock in Ages (in Sydney at least) points towards more shows feeling this pinch. What are the safest shows? Ones that are up and running and continue to be successful as they tour around the country, I would say! I feel confident about the tours of Wicked, Jersey Boys, and Mary Poppins as they move to smaller competitive markets.
Again, I say what I have said before: that producers are only starting to realise what I first mentioned two years ago, Brisbane is a buoyant theatre market, hungry for product. There is a young, educated and enthusiastic theatre audience up north, with young families who have moved to a warmer and cheaper environment. If I had to predict what will be the theatre capital of Australia in ten years, it won’t be Sydney or Melbourne!! Some smart person should be looking at building a new 1800 seat commercial theatre in Brisbane to relieve the pressure on QPAC.
Looking at the current playing field for the next twelve months, I feel confident about South Pacific both for its Opera season and a later tour. Also A Chorus Line, which sprang up very quickly but which seems to be being embraced by the market. We need to see that show in a short season in Sydney after Adelaide and Melbourne and it is so good to see a producer move quickly when theatres become available and get a show up this quickly, instead of auditioning for shows so far into the future.
Also Annie looks set for nice short little runs in a well constructed tour. In tough economic times, it’s the revivals and products people know well which often prosper the most and all these new productions of older classics look promising to me. I worry a little about An Officer and a Gentleman and Legally Blonde and I hope Love Never Dies can come to Sydney and play its full season, but in this current economic climate, nothing can be taken for granted. The lighter and frothier and known the fare the better chance of success at the moment.
Let’s cross our fingers and wish the best to the brave producers willing to put big bucks in these shows during these tough times. But please guys, take care of when you are opening shows and what the competition is. Surely three new musicals in January in Sydney during the Festival, when everyone is competing for the entertainment buck didnt reek of brilliant planning??!! A bit more in the way of calculated risks and perhaps less far distant planning may be the way to go for the immediate. So lets hold our breath and cross our fingers and stop talking about boom times – that’s a fantasy, reality is what will get us through this intact.
READ LES SOLOMON’S PREVIOUS COLUMN
South Pacific: Return Of One Of The Greats