Some twenty five years ago I wrote for a number of theatre publications in those glory days before the internet.
For a good two years I complained in many articles and columns about how slow it took for new hit shows to come to Australia. Now in 2013 I sit down to write about the same thing – why do we have to wait so long for the shows that are really exciting people in New York and London?
In the interim since I wrote those columns there have been a few shows that have come quickly to Australia and been very successful at the box office as a result. Les Miserables came to Oz just two years after its London premiere and a short time after its Broadway opening. CATS came very quickly, as did Miss Saigon and in recent times Billy Elliot
came here before Broadway and Wicked, though not fast, made it only a couple of years after Broadway and we certainly knew it was on its way a long time before it arrived.
Yet for every quick arrival, most shows take far too long to reach Australia. These days, in every form of media it seems, Australian audiences are demanding movies and TV shows hot off the shelf. The term “fast tracking” has become a way of at least suggesting to TV viewers they are getting shows within a day or so from America and Britain. Movies arrive mostly just before their American debut and many (some would say, way too many) people manage to download new episodes and first run movies at the same time as they hit local TV screens and movie theatres.
So why is theatre so different? It seems the most successful commercial musical imports over the last 20 odd years have, as I said, been the ones that have come here quickly while there is still plenty of buzz on the net about them. It’s time theatre producers realised the internet has made immediacy a way of life. TV and movie audiences want what’s hot here-now and quickly. I don’t see how theatre audiences are very different.
There is no doubt that it is sometimes wise to be cautious not to jump on the overseas band wagon too soon or we would have been saddled with productions of Bonnie and Clyde, Catch Me if You Can, Wonderland, Ghost and other recent Broadway flops. But when a show opens, quickly and consistently shows it has ‘legs’ and has the ability to appeal to an international audience, why do we take so long to grab them?
I realise that overseas producers can sometimes be very greedy in the early days of a stage hit and demand far too much for their new money machine. This was the problem in the early months of Wicked and The Lion King where deals had to be made so it could be possible for local producers and investors to have any chance of making a profit. Owners of hit shows don’t always understand the Australian theatre scene.
But two years after The Book of Mormon opening on Broadway and despite the fact it gets rave reviews from every local person who have seen the show, we are still no closer to seeing the show open in Australia. I do not believe a show can be “too American” for local audiences. We live and breathe American comedy shows on the TV, we understand American humour and timing far better than the other way around. Mormon will be a hit if it gets here soon. Likewise Newsies is a show that has proven it has ‘worldwide hit’ written all over it and has an appeal that will cross into the Wicked young audience demographic. And let’s face it, these are the audiences we need to keep the future of commercial theatre alive.
The show that seemed perfect to beat its path to our door before Broadway surely should have been Matilda. Proving to be the biggest hit show in London for families since Annie, Oliver and The Sound of Music first reared their heads. Add to that appeal Australian superstar composer and actor Tim Minchin and the local appeal is irresistable. If ever a show should have been tickling producers’ fancies from the moment it went viral in its Stratford out of town tryout two years ago this should have been it. Yet, still no word for an Australian production of a local artists’ international triumph, even as the Broadway version begins previews on March 4.
I was seriously underwhelmed by a recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald about what shows were in the pipeline for Australia. Rocky Horror Show revived (again??!!), Spamalot coming to Sydney despite its huge flop in Melbourne and having been produced by almost every known local amateur musical society. Also, has the lesson not be learnt that local productions of musicals that havent worked or even been seen in London or New York is a huge risk. First Wives’ Club – the musical. Not so sure.
Australia needs to get with the programme and get excited about ‘the now’. Everything in the world from dance crazes to movies and shows are about what is happening overseas and on YouTube this very minute. Theatre producers in this country need to realise they have to tap into this phenomenon. This is where the world sits now. Times are changing and every aspect of the entertainment world has to keep up with what the internet is telling us.