While musical theatre is popular across Europe, the Spanish market for West End-style hits remains relatively untapped. Selladoor Spain’s MD tells Nick Awde the key to success is tailoring hit shows to the local market
In continental Europe, the musical has taken quite a different evolutionary arc from the UK’s tradition, tending to the spectacular – such as Spain’s flamenco extravaganzas and France’s historical epics – or the more intimate muziektheater of Belgium and the Netherlands.
Until recently, the English Channel represented something of a ‘great divide’ for the genre. And while the London stage was seen as the go-to for productions such as the French-authored Miss Saigon and Les Miserables to find their audience, it has also proved a graveyard for foreign musicals making the leap (often unfairly, such as Charles Aznavour’s Lautrec).
Today, quality musicals with a European provenance are hardly coming in fast and furious, while the West End itself struggles to match Broadway’s output in the new blockbuster department. But what the UK hasn’t lost is its production excellence and knowhow (and nose for a hit) and taking musicals overseas to meet demand and create new markets is now a rapidly growing slice of the nation’s cultural export.
An increasingly major player in this area is the decade-old Selladoor Worldwide, whose focus on expanding into Europe over the past few years has built on its activities further afield. With offices already in New York, Bangkok and Shanghai, its new hub in Madrid is a canny choice for Selladoor’s European operations, since it also provides a launch pad in the other direction to Latin America.
“That was the plan from the beginning,” says JC Storm, Selladoor Spain’s managing director. “The Latin-American market is a very interesting prospect for Spanish-speaking musicals. We are already in touch with Mexico and Argentina and we are planning to be there soon with Flashdance the Musical.”
Madrid is a key developing market for musicals, so it’s no surprise that this wider perspective of the Spanish-language market is also being eyed by other Madrid-based producers such as CIE-Stage Holding (Beauty and the Beast, Rent) and SOM Produce (Billy Elliot).
1. Selladoor Worldwide began its life as Sell a Door Theatre Company, formed by David Hutchinson and Phillip Rowntree in 2009 when students at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
2. In 2018, Selladoor Creation was launched as a platform for new writers to showcase and develop their work, including an artists in residence initiative, alongside a growing workshops and outreach programme.
3. Selladoor Venues was launched in 2019 as operator of the Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple, the Landmark Theatre, Ilfracombe, and Peterborough New Theatre.
4. Selladoor has four international offices in New York, Bangkok, Shanghai and Madrid. Together, they tour productions to 11 countries including Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Spain, China, USA, UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Ireland.
5. In 2018, Selladoor Worldwide and Turkish music promoter PIU Entertainment announced a joint venture to work on producing live entertainment in the UK and emerging Eastern European markets.
Flashdance is Selladoor Spain’s debut – the Spanish-language version opens in January 2020 in a major sit-down run at Madrid’s Teatro Nuevo Apolo, after a sold-out eight-week run in Barcelona earlier this year. It’s very much Storm’s brainchild: aside from producing, he has also directed the show and written a new book and lyrics.
“One of my conditions for bringing Flashdance to Spain was to be able to do a completely different version with major changes because I thought that it needed to fit the market here. So, we made a different structure – a longer first act, different scenes, characters changed or dropped. We have completely new choreography, new arrangements with new vocal melodies, and a new script, since this is the first time Flashdance has been produced in Spanish.”
Storm sees Disney as breaking open the Spanish market with Beauty and the Beast – “It made people understand that musicals can have that family theme,” he says – and it’s no surprise that The Lion King has been selling out since 2011.
People in Spain haven’t had a long-term relationship with musicals, we don’t have that type of solid audience
Although Spain is the fifth-largest country in the EU in terms of population and has an enviably rich tradition of theatre and music, this doesn’t mean there’s an obvious slot for musicals. As Storm points out: “Not everything will work and not every title can fit in. We are setting out to do something different but the big names in the UK or US for us are pretty unknown. People in Spain haven’t had a long-term relationship with musicals, we don’t have that type of solid audience.
“Anastasia [Madrid was its first premiere after Broadway] and Lion King are huge productions, so people get impressed because they are not always aware of how productions are in the UK and New York. My goal is to bring other titles to show that there’s more beyond Disney.”
Storm had always wanted to make musicals, but found a more rewarding career as a producer in Spain’s bustling film industry. “The scene was pretty difficult when I was starting out 20 years or so ago, because even Beauty and the Beast had yet to be released and there was nothing like the industry that there is today.”
He trained as a writer and director, but his producer’s side took over the creative side. “The movie business is so intensive you don’t even have time to think about writing and directing.” Despite working on films such as 2007’s The Heart of the Earth (which broke the record for Spain’s biggest budget), the interest in musicals never left him and connecting with Selladoor’s vision and business model made Storm realise that the right time had come.
The relationship in Spain between stage and screen is a logical one, and makes Storm well positioned to access the Latin-American market. “The movie business might seem different, which it is,” he says. “But there are wide connections because movie people usually work with stage and TV channels too, so it all really comes around to the same thing.”
There’s a lot more to Spain than Barcelona and Madrid. For the right show, places like Bilbao and the cities in the south can support a tour of a year or more, plus longer runs in Madrid and Barcelona. But large venues are at a premium – especially those that are technically up to the demands of a modern musical.
After Flashdance, Storm clearly has a bunch of titles in mind to follow up, with much to pick from the productions emerging from the Selladoor Worldwide cornucopia. With shows like Little Miss Sunshine, Jersey Boys and Footloose already out in its catalogues, there is sure to be something suited for fine-tuning to the Spanish market.
Flashdance was the perfect show to start with. “The first reason why people go to a show, according to market research, is because of the title,” says Storm. “The economy has been changing massively since 2008 and today the people in Spain with most spending power right now are the middle class. So if people aged 30 or over are going to spend that amount of money, they need to see a really good-quality show.”
Here the interaction between Selladoor’s international offices helps in very practical ways such as transferring sets. “If you don’t need to build new sets, costs go down big time and so we can maintain good prices. Part of my focus in making it happen in Madrid is trying to keep down ticket prices so we don’t go over €65.
“Spain is a really good market that is becoming huge, but as I’ve said, it’s not a solid one yet so we need to build it step by step. We need to develop this cultural mindset and educate people with new shows. That way we can start to bring in new talent – new performers, new directors and new writers. This is something that will take a few years but we need to start building as soon as we can.”
Heads: David Hutchinson (chief executive), Phillip Rowntree (chief financial officer), JC Storm (managing director, Selladoor Spain)
Base: London – with offices in Madrid, Bangkok, Shanghai and New York
Employees: 22 in London office and 46 at Selladoor venues; 14 staff members in international offices
Shows (2018-9): 21, including Flashdance the Musical, Madagascar the Musical, American Idiot, Avenue Q, Fame, Little Miss Sunshine, Amelie, 9 to 5 the Musical, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Little Shop of Horrors, Rock of Ages
Countries include: Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, USA (New York), Thailand, China, South Korea
Venues: The Landmark Theatre, Ilfracombe; Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple; New Theatre, Peterborough
Audience figures (2018): 433,155 (excluding Little Shop of Horrors and Rock of Ages)
Ticket sales (2018): £11.5 million (gross sales excluding Little Shop of Horrors, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Rock of Ages)
Projected turnover (2019): £21million
Key contacts at Selladoor Spain: Edward Luis: email@example.com, JC Storm: firstname.lastname@example.org