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Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
London faces fresh musical wave
By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A fresh influx of big-budget musicals has got London's theatreland buzzing. But how many of these risky propositions will find an audience?

Idina Menzel in Wicked
Tony award-winner Idina Menzel heads Wicked's London cast
The songs are memorised, the orchestras are rehearsed. All that remains is for the audience to take their seats.

In what is shaping up to be one of the busiest theatre seasons in West End history, competition for that audience has rarely been so intense.

Some productions, like Broadway hit Wicked and the Monty Python musical Spamalot, have been banging the drum for months with high-profile advertising campaigns.

Others, like the stage version of much-loved film Dirty Dancing, are letting well-known names do the work for them.

And then there's The Sound of Music, innovatively promoted via a BBC One talent search programme that is allowing viewers to choose its leading lady.

According to Matt Wolf of the International Herald Tribune, Andrew Lloyd Webber's revival could suffer from being the last big show to open this autumn.

"People might feel sated," he told the BBC News website. "Plus, how can you have a major revival of a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic and not have the director decide who his star is?"

'Phenomenon'

As far as Mr Wolf is concerned, the show is most compromised by its poster, which depicts singing nun Maria in her familiar pose atop an Alpine mountain.

"It's really naff," he says dismissively. "It's like they're selling margarine."

Tim Curry in Spamalot
Tim Curry is the only original cast member in Spamalot
The London-based critic has higher hopes for Wicked, an award-winning prequel to The Wizard of Oz that is now the highest grossing show in Broadway history.

"Wicked has been an extraordinary phenomenon," he says. "It's in the school of the big musical behemoth that Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh pioneered in the 1980s.

"It's heavy and ponderous in some ways, but I think it's going to be a big, popular success."

With its British lineage and the enduring appeal of the Monty Python TV series, Spamalot would appear to be Wicked's biggest rival.

But Mr Wolf expresses some reservations about how this New York hit will fare on this side of the Atlantic.

"It's a send-up about succeeding on Broadway," he explains. "Are West End audiences going to care about that?"

With only Tim Curry reprising his role from the original production, the London version is also noticeably less star-studded than its US counterpart.

"They're really scraping the barrel," says Mr Wolf. "Monty Python is the star with this show."

'Doomed'

The producers of Daddy Cool, a tribute musical featuring the songs of disco group Boney M, will be hoping a similar recognition factor applies.

The Romeo and Juliet-inspired show stars former EastEnders actress Michelle Collins, Harvey from rap troupe So Solid Crew and one-time Eurovision hopeful Javine

Anna Maxwell Martin in Cabaret
Anna Maxwell Martin plays Sally Bowles in Cabaret
Mr Wolf is scathing about its chances. "I think it's doomed," he says. "It all sounds too hilarious for words."

More promising is a new staging of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, starring Bleak House actress Anna Maxwell Martin in the Sally Bowles role played by Liza Minnelli in the 1972 film.

Compared to its competitors, though, the show seems to be keeping a relatively low profile.

"It feels so under the radar," says Wolf. "I haven't seen a single ad for it.

"It's a crowded environment; you've got to get the name out there."

That's something Dirty Dancing need not worry about. With a hefty 6m in advance bookings, the show has struck a chord with audiences sight unseen.

"I didn't know there was such public affection for the film," says Mr Wolf with evident bemusement.

"I gather they're happy with the advance because they're sure the critics are going to cream it."


SEE ALSO
The cult of The Sound of Music
18 Aug 06 |  Magazine
Rings musical heads for West End
23 Jun 06 |  Entertainment
Python launches West End Spamalot
21 Feb 06 |  Entertainment
Wicked Oz musical heads for London
03 Feb 06 |  Entertainment

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