Why are musicals struggling to survive in the West End?

Charlie Reynolds (@charlieareyno) for @MTAS_Official

made-in-dagenham-photo-alex-jamesMade in Dagenham, a musical with music by David Arnold and lyrics by Richard Thomas closed on 11th April 2015, having only a five-month run. It seems that the years of 2013 – 2015 marked a time where musicals were disappearing quite quickly from the stage. With the likes of Stephen Ward, From Here to Eternity, I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical and Viva Forever, it appears this group of newly produced musicals were simply unable to make the cut.

miss-saigon-photo-charlie-reynoldsSo why did these new productions struggle so much? During this time, these were competing with some of the West End’s best revivals. With musical greats going from great to greater, we saw Miss Saigon come to the Prince Edward, breaking box office records. Cats at that time also extended its run after a fantastic opening with Nicole Scherzinger. Ultimately, ticket sales drive the success of a show, no matter how talented the cast are. I got the chance to see both Made in Dagenham and Viva Forever, and thought the shows were extremely fun and had some great plot points. It is quite sad really that a show such as Made in Dagenham, which includes a hard hitting factual story and was quite pivotal in our history, struggled to maintain a following and did not gain the run it deserved.

i-cant-sing-photo-target-mediaThe X Factor is back on our screens and it is a show that has the nation fixed every year. We get hooked for weeks on end, a show that is filled with high-strung emotion, never failing to bring the drama. It has enjoyed a huge amount of popularity for years so it was only a matter of time that it would be created into a musical. But was this the right story to bring to the West End? You’d think X Factor fans would be rushing to see it, but why would they, when most fans are young adults with very low disposable incomes. I’m a huge theatre fan, and will give any show a chance, but people like me don’t fill the seats. These shows need to find the masses to appeal to, and the most young adults I know would not be willing to pay up to £90 for a ticket.

Instead of six months, the show closed six weeks after it opened, the main reason once again being audience figures. If a theatre isn’t able to fill its seats, then it cannot justify keeping the show open. Even when you have got a show, as good as it is or not, in the West End it seemed that there was an ever-decreasing chance of success. As I’ve recently noted, theatregoers are less inclined to fork out the full price for newcomers, myself thinking to wait a few months or so to see if the prices will go down or if it will tour in a local city. The touring scene has become really strong recently and it makes sense as to why people are turning to it.

Viva Forever? I mean that’s just ironic. Again, after six months of very bad reviews and an audiences’ indifference, it forced the producers to close the Spice Girls musical, leaving the backers with a £5 million loss. Judy Craymer created the musical, behind the global hit Mamma Mia! and was written by Jennifer Saunders, how did it flop? The show satirised The X Factor telling the story of an aspiring girl band, who get swept up in a TV talent search. I think here the reviews heavily affected ticket sales. It did receive a revamp and Craymer herself claimed that the show had evolved greatly after it opened. I was fortunate enough to see the show and I myself did notice that the audience reacted positively to the show, but the show was unable to go on.
viva-forever-photo-charlie-reynoldsWest End theatre tickets are reaching an all-time high and in the past year the average top-price ticket for a West End production can reach £90 or more. Shows such as The Book of Mormon charge up to £130 for premium seats.  It seems to have become the norm that if you want to see a popular production, you’re probably going to have to really pay for it. Is this why new shows are struggling to survive? Are theatre goers not willing to take a chance on a show that is brand new and would rather spend their money on a show they can guarantee will be good?

Does this mean the end for new work in the West End? Of course not, but it is clear that previous years have shown that it is a tough testing ground to bring new work too. It appears the West End is currently reserved for those well-established productions that we all love, including the jukebox favourites that already have a big following. Staging a show in London is a great risk for any theatre company, they put hard work and a large a mount of money into them, and it is such a shame to see them fail. It is an unpredictable place, and I suppose that is what makes going to the West End exciting, as it is always changing.  I suppose it can be said that as fans of the theatre, we have a duty to support new shows coming into London, and give them a go before we pass judgement, and I hope in the future to try and see a variety of shows that come to the West End, rather than sticking to the classics.

Do you agree? Do you have a different opinion? Let us know in the comments…
Article by Charlie Reynolds (@charlieareyno) for @MTAS_Official


4 thoughts on “Why are musicals struggling to survive in the West End?

  1. I desperately wanted to see ‘made in dagenham’ and was heartbroken when it shut! There were and are so many shows on the west end I wanted/want to see, but as a broke student…I simply cannot afford the tickets. It’s sad that I can’t see the shows I want..


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