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Editor’s View: Celebrate the West End’s special relationship with Broadway

Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo: Bruce Glikas Andrew Lloyd Webber is to receive lifetime achievement prize at this year’s Tony Awards. Photo: Bruce Glikas
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It’s not uncommon to hear grumbling, especially around Olivier Awards time, that the West End is too in awe of its American sibling, Broadway. People complain that there are too many US-originated musicals in London, the Oliviers aren’t as glitzy as the Tonys, the Oliviers are trying too hard to be like the Tonys, too many US shows win awards or too many US stars are imported to boost box office.

So, it’s good to see Broadway repaying the compliment this week, as the Tonys recognise a British creative with as great an impact over there as here: Andrew Lloyd Webber. Meanwhile, Sonia Friedman’s appearance in the Time 100 list is a great plaudit not only for her but for UK theatre more generally.

Andrew Lloyd Webber to receive lifetime achievement prize at this year’s Tony Awards

I’m sure that if you were party to similar conversations Stateside you would hear mirror-image grumbles: Broadway relies too much on imported hits from the UK; where is the US version of Harry Potter, Matilda, Billy Elliot or War Horse? Does the UK have a better new-writing culture than the US? And so on.

Broadway and the West End’s symbiotic relationship has survived fluctuations in the respective fortunes of both sides. In some eras, the balance might tilt slightly towards one side or the other, but broadly it’s an exchange that works well for both parties.

Take as a microcosm the past 12 months: we have sent Broadway our hit show of 2016 (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and Broadway has sent the West End its hit show of 2015 (Hamilton). Both look likely to run and run on each side of the Atlantic. That strikes me as a pretty fair swap.

Likewise, in a case of carrying coals to Newcastle, one of the other big hits of the current Broadway season is the National Theatre’s production of Angels in America.

When the Tony Awards nominations are announced next week, it would be a shock if Harry Potter and Angels weren’t widely recognised, just as Hamilton was celebrated at the Oliviers.

The West End would not be as successful as it is without Wicked, The Book of Mormon or The Lion King. But the same could be said of Broadway without The Phantom of the Opera, Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, or the raft of quality drama productions that Friedman has transferred to the US.

This is as it should be. And, as we prepare to make life significantly harder for British companies wishing to take their shows around mainland Europe, thank God our special theatrical relationship with the US endures.