Well, that got your attention, I trust.
The reference, of course, is to a song title from the multi Tony Award winning musical Spring Awakening, which this week confirmed news that had been making the rounds for some time now: the West End transfer to the Novello Theatre is closing May 30 after barely two months, thereby adding this particular show to the long list of Broadway-to-London musical flops that includes City of Angels, The Full Monty, Contact, Movin’ Out, the Scott Ellis revival of She Loves Me (notwithstanding its Olivier Award sweep): the list goes on and on.
At present, the verdict is out on the eventual West End profitability, for instance, of Broadway financial gusher, and 2009 Olivier Award winner, Jersey Boys.
Indeed, one might be better off citing those productions from New York that have crossed the Atlantic successfully: The Lion King, the revival of Chicago, Wicked, Hairspray. Caroline, or Change, hardly a Broadway world-beater in economic terms, did just fine in London, and won copious awards, but the Tony Kushner/Jeanine Tesori collaboration arrived under the state-funded protection of the National Theatre for a limited run. Left to fend for itself in the commercial marketplace, one shudders to think whether so demanding a work would have even lasted a month.
There’s a point here that extends beyond a mere naming of names, which has to do with an essential paradox of the theater culture in the U.K.: For all that London remains arguably the leading city in the western world for classical music and opera, and offers via the annual Royal Albert Hall summertime Proms an immersion in that repertoire on an order simply unknown elsewhere, that same acumen and avidity on matters melodic (or sometimes not), don’t translate to musical theater.
Think of it: who are the new composers from within the U.K. whose latest works excite the chatterati in the way that, say, the merits of the Next To Normal or [tos] scores are debated on Broadway chatrooms. Aside from the team of Stiles and Drewe, it’s hard to think of any — and even they have had far less commercial exposure than one might have assumed from their prominence within the industry.
Put another way, without the Sherman brothers’ leg to stand on as far as adding new songs to Mary Poppins on stage, these gifted collaborators’ shows generate scant commercial heat in the way that even Grey Gardens, say, did for some of the time in New York, however much money that production ultimately lost during its much-laureled run.
At the time Grey Gardens closed on Broadway, there was immediate talk of remounting the show in London, and Julia McKenzie was even cited as a possible English inheritor of Mary-Louise Wilson’s Tony winning role as Big Edie. But despite the investigative trawl made around various London venues by several of the musical’s creative team, any such British premiere has yet to happen – and the failure of the arguably far more accessible Spring Awakening won’t advance its cause.
Spring Awakening’s quick collapse is of interest, as well, given this city’s pop and rock wealth of activity, within which one might have thought the indie pop stage musical contributions of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik might at least have counted for something. I have no idea how heavily Michael Mayer’s production was promoted to the NME/Mojo-reading crowd, but therein might have rested at least some degree of commercial salvation. Or at least rather more of a degree than one is ever likely to get from the mainstream critical contributions of, say, Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail, who helpfully informed us in his review that “I nearly parked my supper [during] some contrived gay snogging between two sticky little Herberts straight out of central casting.” Sticky, eh?
In fact, “sticky” is a good word to describe the dilemma faced by any New York musical of any degree of success that wants a London run away from the not-for-profit arena. Sure, Parade knocked ‘em dead at the Donmar a season or two ago, but that was in a venue about one quarter, or less, the size of Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, where the Jason Robert Brown musical was first seen in a separate incarnation.
Or maybe Spring Awakening’s best bet is to take a leaf from the ongoing success of Terry Johnson’s revival of La Cage Aux Folles – a sizable London flop when the show first played the Palladium during the 1980s – and wait 20 or so years, so it can be reborn at the Menier Chocolate Factory, as La Cage was, before transferring in triumph. (Either that or cast your leads off – heaven help us – reality TV.)
By that point, Aneurin Barnard (Melchior) and Charlotte Wakefield (Wendla) can return to the piece playing the adult authority figures. In the meantime, I wish them all exceedingly well.