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Has the West End found its golden age for creative musicals?

  • West End embraces original musicals over jukebox productions
  • Success of “Two Strangers” and “Operation Mincemeat” highlights shift
  • Challenges for new creators amid industry focus on established works

Following a string of triumphs for musicals featuring original soundtracks, West End actors, authors, and producers are convinced that audiences are now “willing to undertake risks.

While jukebox musicals currently predominate in London’s West End, certain stars of the theatre contend that the triumph of original productions serves as evidence that “audiences are willing to take a chance.”

In the last twenty years, there has been a significant surge in merchandise centred around well-known tunes, with artists such as Motown, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, and the Jersey Boys contributing to this trend.

The phenomenal success of producing Mamma Mia! in 1999, which was predicated on ABBA’s extensive discography, was a game-changer.

Several investors concluded that they had discovered a silver bullet: the combination of chart hits and nostalgia made the album simpler to sell to a certain audience that prefers to know precisely what they are purchasing.

Although their dominance and widespread popularity are undeniable, they are not the types of programs that critics are particularly enthusiastic about.

The millennial romantic comedy Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York) is an original offering with brand-new music that the majority of people have never heard of, yet it has amassed an insufficient number of five-star reviews in a matter of weeks.

Sam Tutty, who portrays Dougal in the two-hander, claims that the authors had to “fight tooth and nail” to secure West End production.

The actor, who won an Olivier for his performance as the protagonist in Dear Evan Hansen, explained, “They gained a foothold along the way, which is why they are where they are at this time.”

Dujonna Gift co-stars with him as Robin in the film, which chronicles the pre-wedding encounters of two strangers in their twenties.

She explains, “Fringe theatre is currently where it’s at, and encouraging and championing these writers will accomplish great things by convincing them that there is a market for their work.”

“As someone who has previously performed in jukebox musicals, there will always be a market for that,” says Gift, who has also appeared in Hamilton and Motown: The Musical. “However, at this time, it is crucial that we make room for these new writers.”

The efficacy of Operation Mincemeat serves as evidence that word-of-mouth can attract an equivalent number of spectators as the selection of a pop celebrity.

In response to overwhelming demand, the musical, which is inspired by an actual secret mission that helped Britain win World War II, has extended its run by a factor of eight.

Although it recently won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, its creators, the sketch troupe SpitLip, were on the verge of abandoning the industry before penning the hit.

“Grants were available when we first began producing theater,” says writer and actor Natasha Hodgson.

“Being a creator at this moment is extremely difficult without a substantial amount of funds in your bank account.

“Everyone in the theatre ecosystem is acutely aware of the challenges that theatre makers face in getting their works off the ground. While everyone is doing their utmost to support new work and secure commissions, it is extremely difficult. We must continue to emphasize that the arts are in our very blood in this country.”

I believe that this show and others similar to it are demonstrating that audiences are, in fact, willing to support novel concepts and take risks.

Although utilizing the influence of well-known musical properties is generally regarded as a safe bet for producers, Tim Johanson, the producer of Two Strangers, claims that this has made it more difficult to sell genuinely original works.

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He explains that “surprising familiarity” is a phrase he has heard frequently.

You must be familiar with X, a stage adaptation of this artist’s work, this book, or this film, all of which can contribute to the creation of truly fantastic performances.

But instead of attracting followers of established musicians to the theatre, they appear to be amassing their army, according to Johanson.

Already having viewed the show 15, 16, or 17 times, it is these individuals who are engaging in online discourse and encouraging others to attend, thereby propelling the anticipated millions of music streams.

Even though jukebox musicals may be ubiquitous, Johanson is not overly concerned.

Six and Operation Mincemeat were the two that paved the way, and this truly seems like the ideal moment in my career to compose new British musicals.

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