Budapest to the Black Sea

Budapest to the Black Sea

Sunday, 29 June 2008

How to Put on a Musical 8 – The Theatre

There aren’t enough theatres in London. It’s that simple. As you read this there are musicals circling the West End rather like jumbo jets over Heathrow, looking for somewhere to land. Some of them will never find a landing place, some of them will be forced off to a theatrical equivalent of Schipol or Manchester, some of them will simply crash and burn. Not only are there not enough theatres, most of the theatres that we do have are remarkably unsuitable for musicals being too small and designed as playhouses. They don’t have enough seats, their orchestra pits are a crush for a string quartet, and there is only one ladies toilet in the building.

The crucial thing to consider when deciding which theatre to go for is the ‘take’. How much money can you take in box office receipts per week. If this figure is less than what it costs to run the show then either the theatre is too small or the show is too big. Obvious, you would think, but producers don’t always get this basic arithmetic right. I know of at least one show where the theatre was sold out but the producers found that they were losing money and after a couple of weeks they put the notice up and closed the show. At a less drastic level there are plenty of shows that limp along just breaking even but needing to run for 80 years to recoup their investment.

So how does a producer choose a theatre? He doesn’t, he just takes what he can get unless of course he is Cameron Mackintosh or The Really Useful Group in which case he buys the theatre, renames it after a famous homosexual and puts on whatever he likes. Lesser mortals cast around desperately saying “location, location, location” to themselves and turn their noses up at the Piccadilly or the Shaftesbury. When they fail to secure their first, second, third or fourth choices of theatre they can be heard saying “a theatre is only as good as the show that is in it”.

Project Model – Maintenance!
Producers Alvin Toxteth and Samuel J Bloodlust enter the hunt for a theatre with some foreboding. They are aware that the show, which readers will remember is based on the Haynes Owners Workshop Manual for the 1989 Skoda Favorit, has already acquired a reputation as the ‘Flop of the Year’ even before rehearsals have begun. In a curious way this may turn out to be to their advantage in that theatre owners may take the show as a short term filler, secure in the knowledge that, being a solid gold klunker, it will only run a few weeks and will pay their staff’s wages until something more durable turns up.
Toxteth and Bloodlust sift the rumours and counter-rumours that crackle through the synapses and ganglia (you can tell I’ve been watching too much House) of the West End.
Is business falling off on Happy as a Hapsburg? Has Shirley (the Shirley Bassey musical, with the underrated Bonnie Langford in the title role) shot it’s bolt? Will Lord of the Rings really transfer to the Criterion? Is that weather girl with the big lips going into Chicago? Is the New London going to be turned into a Chinese Cash & Carry?
They wheel, they deal, they are offered the Peacock (the one buried under an office block on Kingsway, which used to be called the Royalty) but decide they will only take up that offer when the Winter Olympics take place in Hell. As insurance Toxteth’s assistant, Kevin Whimper, is instructed to pencil book a pre-West End tour. There is strong possibility that Maintenance! will open in Sunderland……

Casting Update
After the Andover debacle, which has at least raised public interest in the show, the producers and Hampshire Gold TV have rescheduled Baby You Can Drive My Car, the TV audition show, and have discreetly selected two performers who they would like to cast in the leading roles and who they intend to feed into the show among the other hopefuls. A careful plan has been hatched to ensure that the judges, the public and the voting system are ruthlessly manipulated to ensure that Maintenance! gets the two leads the producers want.

Christopher Biggins has turned down the role of Max Sadistik, the vulpine Skoda production line foreman.

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