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Shaftesbury Theatre

Tuesday 07 June 2011

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Some theatres lend themselves to musicals, and the Shaftesbury Theatre is certainly one of those. With a spacious thirty-one foot by thirty-one foot stage and an ample 2,392-seating auditorium the venue is well-equipped for the larger casts, expansive dancing scenes and complex lighting rigs needed for a musical to thrive. Sadly not all do thrive however, and having a huge theatre seating plan to fill can lead to producers going from seeing dollar signs to seeing angry bank managers. Although one of the most popular theatre forms with the public, musicals are risky business as they are extremely expensive to stage. In reality West End musicals needs to last at least 18 months to start turning a profit. The Shaftesbury Theatre has seen some success stories over the years. Hair only closed in 1973 after just under two thousand performances because part of the ceiling fell in and similarly named Broadway hit Hairspray opened in October 2007 and managed nearly two and a half years, garnering a record-setting eleven Olivier Awards nominations before its successful national tour.

It's been more of a case of Hair today, gone tomorrow for a number of other London musicals that have tried their luck shifting Shaftesbury Theatre tickets over the years. Despite positive show reviews in The New York Times and The New Yorker for its Broadway production, the 2004 London transfer for Batboy - a musical about someone who is half boy and half bat of course - couldn't make it work in the Shaftesbury. Poor reviews sent it flying off after less than five months, although a scaled down version with a revised score had critics and audiences lapping it up at the 2006 Edinburgh Festival.

Rock of Ages
Boney M-based musical Daddy Cool boasted a Channel 5 reality show casting agent's dream combination of ex Eastender Michelle Collins, almost Girls Alouder and Eurovision entrant Javine and former So Solid Crew member Harvey. As if classic Boney M tracks Rivers Of Babylon and Brown Girl In The Ring weren't enough, the hits of disgraced lip-synching duo Milli Vanilli were thrown in too! Despite this seeming solid gold setup the public were nonplussed and the show and the cast weren't singing Hooray! Hooray! for long as the show limped out of the theatre after six months with the tabloids full of Harvey's adulterous affair with Javine leaving ex-wife-to-be Alesha Dixon heartbroken, and not glowing reviews.

The most recent musical flop at the theatre happened earlier this year as the stage adaptation of hit 80s musical Flashdance was dragged kicking and screaming from the Shaftesbury stage much earlier than producers had hoped. The runaway success of the stage version of Dirty Dancing which broke pre-sales records must have had producers thinking they had a sure thing on their hands. The rights were secured for the film's iconic hits - the pulsating Maniac, the stirring Gloria and of course, Irene Cara's heady anthem What A Feeling to add to an original score and choreography came from Strictly Come Dancing favourite Arlene Phillips. Reviews for its debut at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and its subsequent UK tour were favourable, but when it transferred to the West End…nada. It survived less than four months.

When a musical hits, it hits big. Who knows how many shows might have come and gone through Her Majesty's Theatre's doors if steady sales of Phantom Of The Opera tickets hadn't kept the show there nearly twenty five years, or if Blood Brothers hadn't settled in at the Phoenix Theatre almost twenty years ago. For now though, the Shaftesbury Theatre seems happy to keep letting show have a go until something sticks. Although if a show closes early that doesn't necessarily mean that they get their advance rent back - and who wants a long-term tenant on fixed low rent these days, eh!

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