Tied in to their Helpmann Awards coverage the Herald Sun published an article today interviewing a number of the major Australian commercial theatre producers and directors about their views on the ‘pros and cons’ of the movie to stage adapted musical, and the trend we seem to be in the middle of. Also published today was Live Performance Australia’s annual Ticket Attendance & Revenue Survey which revealed musical theatre attendance and sales dropped throughout 2012.
I don’t particularly have a problem with where someone sources their material for a musical. There are obviously excellent examples of movie to stage adaptations (ONCE) and jukebox musicals (Jersey Boys) but for each of these examples there are another ten lazily made, money minded, unnecessary adaptations. What annoys me most is when producers pull out the old, worn out excuse that “the audience told me they wanted it” and don’t admit that the truth that a named, existing product is a more secure way to get money off investors, and to try and ensure bums on seats come show time, in order to pay those investors back. But perhaps attendance figures dropping in both Australia and on Broadway are an indication that we need to start producing more interesting material.
In the Herald Sun article Carmen Pavlovic, the chief executive of Global Creatures (the company behind a series of adaptations- King Kong, How To Train Your Dragon, Walking With Dinosaurs and the upcoming (and I’m guessing, oddly puppetless?) Strictly Ballroom) says “Audiences seem to want a level of comfort about what it is they are going to see.”
I don’t know about you, but when I spend $70-$100 on a ticket I want something exciting, perhaps pushing the boundaries, a great set, phenomenal casting, and not something I could have stayed home and watched on DVD for $9. I look for comfort in a nice pair of pyjamas, not for an outing to the theatre. I want to be wowed, I want to be surprised. I don’t want to know what’s coming next. The stage is one of our last frontiers to be moved by human performance, because it is there, physically in front of you, live every night. Perhaps that ‘comfort factor’ is what is killing shows like Legally Blonde and Officer and a Gentleman.
But fear not, arguably the most notable Australian Commercial producer Frosty The Showman also says in the article “I think people are getting to the point where they do want to see original stuff.” Excellent! Wonderful! Amazing! Perhaps in 10 years we’ll do some investing in home grown, original and exciting material. You know, because people weren’t interested in the Keating, Shane Warne and Margaret Fulton musicals. No one went and saw The Hatpin, Once We Lived Here or Flowerchildren. Most of those shows even have bankable commercial interests attached to them.
Instead of listening to the commercial producer babble and excuses right now though, I take some solace in another announcement that was made this week, the creation of new musical theatre company Independent Music Theatre in Sydney. The company combines a number of interesting and successful Sydney based musical theatre companies and producers together in a bid to advance the music theatre genre, and they’ve got a 111 seat theatre at their disposal to help make things happen. Of course there are a number of companies, independent producers and young artists producing new, original musicals in 100-200 seat theatres across the country, time will tell if IMT will really make a difference (other initiatives including Carnegie 18 and New Musicals Australia haven’t been successful in both Melbourne and Sydney.) But with the brains and touring knowledge behind it, plus a number of successful productions, I think IMT really does stand a chance, and I’m eagerly watching on.
And just in case you want one more eye roll (I know I love a good one) after pointing out that perhaps audiences want to see some original stuff (emphasis on original) it was announced at the end of the article “in the interests of creative and financial diversification, Frost is also developing a new musical, Dream Lover, based on the story of singer-songwriter Bobby Darin.”
Someone please show Frosty the number “Original Musical” from [title of show].