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End of the road – but not the show

Niki Evans and Craig Price in Blood Brothers.
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One of the biggest problems facing any producer of a show on either side of the Atlantic is finding the right – or even any – theatre for his or show to open in. It has made theatre owners the single most powerful people in theatreland, bar none. (Even if the days when a critic could singlehandedly close a show are long gone in New York, no show can open without a theatre owner backing it and giving it house room in the first place).

And theatre owners and producers alike love long-runners. There are no ‘down weeks’ inbetween shows when no one is paying the contra (the fixed weekly running cost of the theatre that are billed directly to the producer when one is hiring it). And the shows have their own in-built momentum where the occasional losing week(s) can be sustained by the better times.

London, as producer Bill Kenwright told me over lunch last week,

…is very much at the whim of events – there’s always something going on. And this year, we had the perfect storm: the Queen’s Jubilee, the European football, then the Olympics.

The result was a collective collapse of the commercial marketplace, especially of the long-runners. Speaking of Blood Brothers, Bill Kenwright admitted to me, “We had a bad summer, like most shows. Not the new shows, but shows like Blood Brothers which are part of the fabric of theatreland, there is always a mentality that it will be there so you don’t have to go now. It’s always had a long selling period. But in the summer, the market just fell apart.”

Interviewed on BBC London’s TV news on Tuesday, I said how catastrophic the Olympics were. “The tourist audience on which these shows rely was completely absent.” The West End collapse took Chicago and Kenwright’s newer jukebox entry Dreamboats and Petticoats with it. But as we know, Dreamboats and Petticoats is already back, filling a gap in the schedule at Wyndham’s, and although Blood Brothers is now closing this weekend at the Phoenix after a run of over 24 years, a separate national tour is still on the road and it won’t be long, I imagine, before it is back in the West End somewhere, too.

On the other hand, nothing, as Bill Kenwright told BBC London, is forever. When you get to year ten or fifteen on a show, you think it might run forever, but even Phantom won’t, he said. And turn-over in theatreland is no bad thing: the closure of Blood Brothers has opened up the Phoenix to three shows that have already been booked to follow it, Goodnight Mr Tom later this month, then the return of Midnight Tango from January 30, then the arrival of Once from Broadway from March 16.

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