2011 could be theatre’s watershed year

2011 is going to be a remarkable year in professional musical theatre.

2011 is going to be a remarkable year in professional musical theatre.

After a couple of years of success and predictably successful shows, commercial musical theatre faces some mighty challenges in 2011, and this time next year we will either be discussing a year of flops and theatrical disasters or a watershed year that proves the industry is strong across the board.

It’s been a few years since we’ve seen a major musical totally flop. We went through a bad run – The Full Monty, Spamalot, Titanic and High School Musical come to mind – but of late, the industry has been enjoying a successful period with successful runs of productions like Wicked, Jersey Boys, Avenue Q and Mary Poppins. Even Fame, which did not set the box office totally on fire, managed to get to the end of its tour and wraps up this Sunday at the Capitol Theatre as, it would seem, a general success, though not an overwhelming one.

2011 provides some mighty mountains for the industry.

The obvious one is Doctor Zhivago, to be produced by the master John Frost. Frost, who admits he puts his own financial backside on the line when producing, is taking a major gamble on Zhivago, a brand new musical that will need plenty of publicity and solid marketing to ensure it grabs an audience. It has the right ingredients, including Anthony Warlow, who is likely to help bring in the crowds despite being a regular on the theatre scene in recent years.

Interestingly, Frost isn’t getting cocky. He told Stage Whispers when asked if Doctor Zhivago would succeed, “I don’t know if it will.”

But there is method to the madness of Frost, who is also likely to produce another risky show in the shape of An Officer And A Gentleman in the next couple of years. You see, Frost is investing not just in one show, but in the future of the way musicals are done here.

He told Stage Whispers: “We are going to do it [Zhivago] for 5.5 million. To do it in America it would cost 10.5 million…. If Zhivago and Officer work, you will see a lot more people doing it.”

For Frost, the show is a massive challenge but one gets the feeling he’s ready for that. It’s time to build something himself, rather than produce something already assembled.

It is, however, a case of sink or swim. If the show fails, it leaves Frost’s future plans up in the air. If it succeeds, Frost will be considered a genius and what he creates for the industry will be hugely significant. It has the potential to be his finest hour.

There are other challenges ahead in 2011.

Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom Of The Opera, promises to be a huge theatrical event but there’s still an element of raised eyebrows over it. Will it grab the Phantom audience? Does it have enough firepower to warrant the buzz it will create?

Should it not do as well as planned, it will be an epic failure. Should it succeed, again, it will be part of a watershed year. It will prove that Australians are indeed interested in true theatre experiences and not popcorn theatre, as Phantom has somewhat become – it’s that ‘tourist’ show that whilst still theatrically important, has become somewhat of a theatre mainstay and an instant success.

Shows like Rock Of Ages, the rumoured Xanadu and Legally Blonde all fall into similar categories – they could be an enormous success, or a dramatic failure.

My point here is that next year, we’re either going to take a massive step forwards, or a step backwards. I have a feeling we’ve been waiting for this year for a while, perhaps since Titanic failed. It was a show that whilst different to those above, still featured a huge element of risk and unfortunately, the theatre world was not quite ready for it. In 2011, the story could well be different.

2011 will be full of some magic musical theatre experiences. Let’s just hope that the tale to be told at the end of the year will be one of huge success, with stories of individual brilliance and achievement, headed by the work of Frost.

Bring it on.

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