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.