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With a plethora of West End plays making the journey across the pond to entertain audiences on the Great White Way this season, it got me to thinking of what exactly the contemporary British influence on Broadway is nowadays.
The National Theatre’s production of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, which swept the board at the Olivier Awards in 2013, winning 7 out of its 8 nominations, is currently playing to capacity audiences at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York. Also announced for the 2014-2015 Broadway season are West End transfers of ‘The Audience’ starring Dame Helen Mirren, for which she earned the 2013 Olivier Award for Best Actress, ‘Skylight’ starring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan, the RSC’s acclaimed productions of ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ (now renamed Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2 for the Broadway audiences), a rumoured transfer of ‘King Charles III’ starring Tim Pigott-Smith, and two Royal Court productions – ‘The River’ and ‘Constellations’ – now brimming with A-list pulling power in the forms of Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal respectively. That’s a whole lot of drama representing our shores.
On first glance, you could say that we Brits still have a massive impact on the Broadway scene, however, there is one glaring omission from the list I just compiled, and that is a single, solitary musical.
The RSC’s production of ‘Matilda the Musical’ is still pulling in great numbers on the Great White Way, but it seems to be the exception that proves the rule as of late. It seems like gone are the days of the 1980s and 1990s, when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh ruled Broadway with an iron fist (that turned every musical it touched to gold). Even Mr Mackintosh’s latest revival of ‘Les Misérables’, has failed to incite the hysteria, it has become accustomed to over its 29 year tenure in the West End. Indeed the tables have turned somewhat and now we look to the Americans to see what musicals might be landing on British soil in the near future.
Many of the West End’s big sellers were born in the USA, including ‘The Book of Mormon’, ‘Wicked’, ‘The Lion King’, and ‘Jersey Boys’, just to name a few. Upcoming productions of ‘Memphis’ starring Beverley Knight, ‘Urinetown’, ‘Beautiful: The Carol King Musical’, ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ starring Tamsin Greig, and ‘The Scottsboro Boys’ also come under the category of ‘American Export’.
Even shows you think should have been developed and launched in the UK, are actually Broadway transfers (or possible future transfers) like Tony Award-winning musicals ‘Once’ (set in an Irish pub in Dublin) and ‘Kinky Boots’ (set in a shoe factory in Nottingham), or Sting’s offering of ‘The Last Ship’ which began previews on Monday at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York and is set in the English seafaring town of Wallsend (near Newcastle). Why have these shows bypassed the West End to initially launch in America?
It seems like our place is to show the US audiences good classic drama, more often than not centred around the Royal Family (both current and historical). And that’s not a bad thing. I am extremely proud of the plays this country produces, in particular exports from the National Theatre, Royal Court and Almeida Theatre. I do feel that we may get stuck in a certain box, however, if we are not careful. Shows like ‘Matilda’ prove we can still make waves in the international musical scene, and I pray for more of the same.
Recent British musical flops such as ‘Stephen Ward’, ‘From Here To Eternity’, ‘Viva Forever!’ and ‘I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical’, have set an unfortunate trend recently, opening and dying within months. Now we are all awaiting the next big British musical, which blows us (and the Americans) out of the water! But what will it be?…
Sub-Editor at Londontheatre.co.uk & NewYorktheatreguide.com
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