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‘Producer-led model in musical theatre is fundamentally damaging,’ says Rupert Goold

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Rupert Goold has claimed that a producer-led model in musical theatre is “fundamentally damaging” the sector.

The director, whose production of Made in Dagenham is currently running in the West End, said that, unlike the US, the UK’s musical theatre scene is “led by a producing model that is dictated by the size of our theatres” and added that musicals should originate from writers and composers who have stories they need to tell.

“I have a lot of friends working on the Bend It Like Beckham musical and, I know the way it is being talked about [by producers] that it appeals to girls, boys and an Asian audience too,” he said. “I heard the workshops are great, but when I look at musicals like Spring Awakening or Hamilton [in the US] you feel that they are only made by artists because they had to make them. Not all of them worked financially, but with any creative enterprise, it has to begin with the need of the artist to make that work,” he said.

Goold added: “I fear musical theatre, as it’s producer-led, is driven by the sense of how big an audience might be and that sense of cynicism is fundamentally damaging.”

The director was speaking on a panel at a joint conference about musical theatre organised by Musical Theatre Network and Mercury Musical Developments at the Arcola Theatre in London.

He was joined by producer Danielle Tarento, who shared concerns that writers of musicals are creating work that they think producers will want to stage.

“The question I always ask is ‘At what point did you stop writing the musical you wanted to write?’,” she said, adding: “That is always a worry – that moment when the voices gets lost.”

Tarento also said she believed musicals had stopped being a “dirty word” and claimed the art form a “smarter” one than in previous years.

“I think there was a time when ‘real people went to the theatre, not musicals’. It was not a smart enough art form. That has gone now. Audiences are becoming broader in their choices and I think musicals are getting smarter. I don’t think it’s all about – and there’s nothing wrong with it – tap dancing and sequins,” she said.

Goold also said musical theatre had started to create “musical theatre stars”, such as Kerry Ellis and Beverley Knight, who he said had more box office appeal than “so called TV or film names in certain roles”.

However, he warned that staying in a musical for too long could be “corruptive” for performers, claiming that while they have a better sense of pacing and consistency over a run, they become “inevitably less alive”.

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