Regional consortium launched to tour large-scale musicals

Fifteen of the UK’s leading independent theatres have come together to create Music and Lyrics, a consortium that will specialise in producing large-scale musical tours.

The company has been set up by producer John Stalker, former chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival City Theatres Trust. The consortium features the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Venue Cymru in Llandudno, Sheffield Lyceum, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Belfast Grand Opera House, Royal and Derngate in Northampton, the Lowry in Salford, Nottingham Theatre Royal, Cardiff New Theatre, Southampton Mayflower, Wolverhampton Grand, Birmingham Hippodrome, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Leicester Curve and Bradford Alhambra.

Music and Lyrics’ first production will be the UK tour of Leicester Curve’s production of The King and I, which will open in Edinburgh next month and stars Ramon Tikaram and Josefina Gabrielle. The tour will visit all members of the consortium as well as a selection of non-consortium theatres.

Stalker told The Stage: “A number of us have been saying that there has been a growing sense of a lack of musical work on the number one circuit and we have been talking about addressing that in a collective way. There are very, very strong pieces of work produced in regional theatres up and down the country that don’t always get the future life that they justify and this is very good for the public investment that goes into them.

“The focus will be musical theatre in all its guises. We’re touring a large number one production on this occasion, there may be call in years to come to look at mid-scale as well as large-scale work. It’s about work of scale and ambition, so that it can command the stages of these number one touring venues.”

He explained that consortium members would share the financial risk of the production, but also the potential rewards. “The venues are essentially the producer, the financial muscle that lies behind the whole tour, and they receive a reward in terms of a greater share of the box office than they would normally get from a standard commercial presentation,” Stalker added.

Arts Council England has also given £75,000 to fund an audience development programme to run alongside the tour.

The news follows the announcement by the Ambassador Theatre Group in September that it was, separately, looking to launch a series of collaborations with regional subsidised producing houses in a bid to discover new British musicals that can tour the UK. That project will initially see the commercial organisation work with the Glasgow Citizens, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Manchester Royal Exchange and Bristol Old Vic. There are also plans to extend the scheme to Birmingham.

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster