Viva Forever! vs The Bodyguard

Lucy Phelps (Diamond),  Hannah John-Kamen (Viva), Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Holly) and Siobhan Athwal (Luce) in Viva Forever at the Piccadilly Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Lucy Phelps (Diamond), Hannah John-Kamen (Viva), Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Holly) and Siobhan Athwal (Luce) in Viva Forever at the Piccadilly Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Richard Jordan is an award-winning UK and international theatre producer. He has been a regular contributor to The Stage since 2005.
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In successive weeks last December, two new musicals opened in the West End. Both compilation musicals: one featured the 90s pop hits of the Spice Girls in Viva Forever!; the other, a more classic pop sound of Whitney Houston hits in The Bodyguard.

Viva Forever! received some of the worst reviews of 2012 (and arguably of all time) for a new West End musical, while The Bodyguard enjoyed a more favourable critical response.

For Viva Forever!, the test will now be to see if this show is critic-proof; and whether its media profile combined with the fact that its target audience probably couldn't care less about what The Guardian or The Daily Telegraph had to say can override them.

The closest comparison to Viva Forever! and its potential to survive a critical mauling is to look at We Will Rock You. Queen fans, together with the help of its appearance on the globally televised 2002 Queens Golden Jubilee concert, has made this a long-running and subsequent international hit.

Viva itself is the brand and therefore not facing the problem that The Bodyguard potentially does whose reviews have focused heavily on bestowing deserved critical acclaim on its lead, the US actress Heather Headley. But there is only one of her and, with critical reviews so heavily fixed on her performance, this presents difficulties for recasting and international exploitation.

Headley will certainly want to play Broadway. But what about the other countries who may want the show with Headley attached? How long is she going to want to keep playing this role and what will happen when she leaves?

That was the recent problem faced on Broadway by Evita, starring Ricky Martin and Elena Roger. Despite an extensive casting search to replace them, it closed on January 26, 2013 - after 337 post-opening performances, a long way off the 1,567 performances of the 1979 Broadway premiere.

If one also considers that the costs of a major musical can often take over a year to recoup, then even with the strongest of reviews if recasting issues make extending the life of the musical problematic so with it comes the critical ability for recoupment and thereafter potentially the musical turning a profit for its investors.

The Bodyguard is a better constructed musical than Viva Forever!. But, it cannot satellite into places as easily or as quickly in multiple international licences in the way Viva Forever possibly could, combined with its pre-publicity each time from the Spice Girls themselves. On Christmas Eve ITV devoted a primetime programme entitled The Spice Girls Story: Viva Forever about the making of the musical and where its previous bad reviews were overshadowed by this powerful and free TV advertising.

For The Bodyguard, it opened in the right year without a major challenge from other new West End musicals and which should serve it well in the award nominations later this year.  But even so, it may ultimately prove to be that Viva Forever! is the winner in the economic stakes.

1 Comment

  1. i have traveled twice from northampton to see the show the first time i had no luck, instead i we git a grace jones of an understudy grunt, grunt, grunt .

    i checked all the necessary dates etc.

    i found out through the facebook page from fans that she does not do matinee shows (only evening) and has now 3 understudy’s none of which have rave reviews .

    This in itself should be stated on the website ???

    what amount of evening shows, she is actually doing ill never know .

    i booked once again for me and a friend to go and see her checking the website dates that she was not scheduled and picking and evening show. Hopefully we would have luck after all my investigating . which as a fan this should all be listed on the official wesbite grrhhhhhh.

    Heather Headley is expected to appear at all evening performances excluding Sat 16 – Sat 23 March

    and isn’t for Mon 13 – Wed 15 May, Mon 17 – Thu 20 June, Mon 15 – Wed 17 Jul …….

    so i booked monday 25th march . after checking her twitter she had been tweeting about her holiday that she was enjoying etc. i thought great she will be all fresh and ready to go as she will return sunday 24th from holiday a day before for rest ? all ready for evening show monday 25th .

    NOOOOO she returned on the same day she was scheduled to perform her evening show. then tweeted quote

    “Amazing time home, Vacation over

    ‘back in London

    My voice is still on break & didn’t fly in w/ me though…but sent a man as her understudy;)”

    great sence of humour ? not impressed at all . who comes back the day of a performance with jet lag ?

    we was already in london train fare, having dinner out, taxi’s wasted . money down the pan again.

    she picks up the flu mighty quick . maybe she should be introduced to a flu jab ? she’s giving london broadway a bad name ! and doesnt deserve to be in this show anymore, as it has been plugged with her name to fill seats . if she only performs 4 nights a week .

    she hasn’t earned this role and it doesn’t deserve the

    ‘Best new musical award’ .

    gracefully step down i say .

    one women on twitter had tweeted traveled all the way from northern ireland to see you and only found out through twitter you wasn’t performing tonight.

    the normal viewing public understand and accept understudy’s when your a fan it puts a sour taste in your mouth and just annoy’s you .

    when you complain all you get given is a piece of paper to contact the head office as the manager has no gut’s or authority to refund or comment.

    “whitney would be turning in her grave”

    not going for a third time …… viva forever next !!!

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