“I just remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad,” Maria sang between the mountains in the sound of music, introducing the world to one of the most memorable musical lines of all time. Uplifting sentiments like these now seem to have sent ticket sales for musicals in London’s West End soaring to new heights, with experts suggesting that two years of misery have left people desperate to lift their spirits.
Society of London Theater (Solt) box office figures reveal that since the start of the year, West End musicals have outperformed their 2019 counterparts in 20 out of 22 weeks of attendance and 19 out of 22 in revenue. There are fewer parts than in 2019, which may partly explain the strong sales, but people in the industry think it’s more than that.
“Musicals are leading the way in our industry’s pandemic recovery,” said Martin Scott, Solt’s interim chief executive. “The post-pandemic surge of musicals in the West End and elsewhere can be interpreted as a sign that audiences are seeking spectacle and escapism during these still uncertain times.”
Such is the need to escape the problems of the world that the public is particularly attracted to the great entertainment shows. Fishermen’s Friends: The Musical has already sold an extraordinary £1.5 million in advance sales tickets for a national tour that will visit major regional theaters from September. The musical is based on the 2019 hit film, a heartwarming comedy inspired by the true story of the friends who found fame after a vacationing record executive overheard them singing sea songs in their village pub. It was written by Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard, who have now directed the sequel, titled Fishermen’s Friends: One and Allwhich will be released in theaters on August 19.
“When people in post-war Britain were still surrounded by the rubble of the Blitz, they just wanted to cheer up,” Moorcroft said. The country didn’t need anything heavy. Just look at the success of Ealing’s comedies from the late 1940s and 1950s. Now, audiences are flocking to see something heartening as they overcome the trauma of Covid.”
O Fisherman’s Friends The musical is directed by Hamish Greer and Tom de Keyser, co-founders of the Royo theater company, and two of musical theater’s hottest young producers. His performances include Cher’s Showa musical about the pop star’s rise to fame that she produced on Broadway and has just embarked on a national tour, and The Osmonds: A New Musicalabout one of America’s biggest boy bands, which continues a national tour with a story written by Jay, the drummer.
“What all three of our musicals have in common is that they are nice nights,” Greer said. “The Osmonds give you some nostalgia, Cher gives you a good jukebox party show and Fisherman’s Friends gives you a really uplifting story. These shows are connecting with people who might be going to the theater to get away from what’s going on or have fun, when they haven’t been in a few years. The audience response is certainly greater with each show, even on a Wednesday matinee, than before.”
Trafalgar Square was transformed this weekend into an open-air theater, offering free performances of the West End’s top shows at Europe’s largest free musical theater festival, West End Live. Among the many musicals being staged this year are Beauty and the Beasta Disney adaptation that opens at the London Palladium after a national tour, and the European premiere of the multi-award winning the band visit at the Donmar Warehouse.
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Music director Mike Dixon – whose next memoir, Turn around and bow!recalls his work on West End musicals, including we will Rock You – said to Observer: “There is an inert power in music to lift the spirit of the listener. And, when you couple that with a touching, funny and entertaining story, you have the potential to take Dame Audience out of all the negative parts of ‘real life’ and give her solace, fun and joy during the show. – and lots of memories to hold on to later.”
Like Oscar Hammerstein, co-creator of the sound of music, once said: “I know the world is full of problems and injustices… I just can’t write anything without hope”.
Coming soon …
South Pacific by Rodgers & Hammerstein: The critically acclaimed Chichester Festival Theater production opens at the Manchester Opera House on July 16, before a season in Sadler’s Wells, London, followed by a limited 10-week UK and Ireland tour. Great classic songs like Some Enchanted Evening and I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair. www.southpacificshow.com
Sister act: premieres at the Eventim Apollo in July, starring Beverley Knight and Jennifer Saunders in a show about “friendship, sisterhood and music.” Original music by Oscar winner Alan Menken and dance routines and music inspired by Motown, soul and disco.https://www.eventimapollo.com/events/detail/sister-act-the-musical
The Band Visit: European premiere of a multi-Tony Award-winning musical that “rejoices in how music makes us laugh, makes us cry and ultimately brings us together”, arriving at London’s Donmar Warehouse in September. Music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses.https://www.donmarwarehouse.com