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Short Shorts 83: A quick exit for Viva Forever, A flurry of musicals, and ticket (and ice cream) pricing

A scene from Viva Forever at the Piccadilly Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Viva Forever for not much longer

Back in February I wrote that Judy Craymer, producer of Viva Forever!, had told the Evening Standard, “The critics were always going to give us a hard time but the truth is it’s sold out until June.”

I was more than a little surprised at the time, given the fact that seats were freely available online and at the half price booth. Then in March, I noted a ticket price sale for the show, too, that also contradicted Craymer’s previous statement.

On Wednesday night, the cast of Viva Forever! were informed that their show will now close on June 29, so presumably that’s after the “sell-out” run to which the producer alluded. I know producers like to put a brave face on things, but there’s no point brazening it out against the evidence.

And as much as I don’t like shows to fail, it sometimes pays to face up to “the cold douche of reality”, to quote the most resonant phrase in Nicholas de Jongh’s play Plague over England. I admire Judy greatly for her work in turning Mamma Mia! into a global stage, and then film, hit. It’s not her fault that its process of turning back pop catalogues into new musicals became a much-imitated phenomenon; and of course having created it, she was in her rights to imitate herself.

The last time I saw her, however, at the opening of Peter and Alice, she beckoned me over and said, “I think I’m going to have to cut off your willy.” It is, I am happy to say, still intact; but her ego is bruised. And I was part of it – she told me that she cried when she read my review. I take no pleasure from such news, but it is also my job to call it like I see it, and replied accordingly. “Yes, but we’re theatre people – we should stick together,” she replied.

To a point. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t honest about my feelings. Integrity is the first job of a critic. But I also see my job as a support, too – and I seriously hope that she’s not discouraged from developing future, hopefully original, new musicals in the future.

Musical madness

The other day my colleague Fiona Mountford tweeted:

I know it isn’t a competition, but in the last eight days I’ve seen six musicals, so I’m in the lead – and I’m off to New York again a week on Monday, too! Fiona and I were both at Rooms at the Finborough and The Pajama Game at Chichester. My week also saw me at Rent in Concert at Hackney Empire, Bare at the Union, Merrily We Roll Along’s transfer to the Pinter and A Man of No Importance at Salisbury (for which my review will appear on The Stage website today).

[pullquote]t’s all very well having the actors, dancers, musicians, directors, choreographers and designers who can give imaginative flight to work that is already created – but what about nurturing it at the point of creation?[/pullquote]

It is striking just how many musicals are around at the moment, both large and small, good and bad. But it is also striking that every single one of those shows was first premiered in America – as always, I wonder where the new British musicals are (though Rooms is in fact written by a Scottish-born composer Paul Scott Goodman, but was originally premiered in New York where he is now based).

For all that we now clearly have the expertise and talent to stage great musicals, as robustly and to an equal standard to Broadway, we still lack the producing nerve and talent to originate new shows. The biggest hole we have is on the producing front. It’s all very well having the actors, dancers, musicians, directors, choreographers and designers who can give imaginative flight to work that is already created – but what about nurturing it at the point of creation?

By the end of this year, we may have two new British musicals running in the West End in Stephen Ward and From Here to Eternity – but they’re co-written respectively by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, working separately. Those two names have dominated British musicals for over 40 years now. Who’s going to give the next generation a leg up?

Prices of tickets… and ice-creams

We know that managements reserve the right of admission. Now, it seems, they reserve the price of admission, too. At the (heavily subsidised) Chichester Festival Theatre, I’m struck by a price advisory on the leaflets for their current production of The Pajama Game and also the forthcoming Barnum: “PLEASE NOTE: the earlier you book, the better the price. These prices are guaranteed until 15 April and are then subject to change.” 

I just checked the website on The Pajama Game, which were being advertised on the leaflet as £31.50, and are now £34.  Prices for Barnum, meanwhile, advertised on the leaflet with a £35 top, are now £40.

But if ticket prices are now subject to dynamic pricing, I was astonished at the opening of Merrily We Roll Along at the Harold Pinter Theatre to discover that the humble pots of Loseley Ice Creams offered in the interval are now a whopping £4.50 each. (I’m also told that a glass of wine in the bar is £8.50; thank God I don’t drink). With prices like this, I’ll be nipping across to the Spar across the Haymarket the next time I’m at the Pinter.

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