Reality TV shows create boom in theatre attendance

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The Independent Culture

The popularity of television reality shows such as How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do has led to record ticket sales and attendances in London's theatreland.

In 2007, attendances rose 10 per cent from the previous year to 13.63 million, while ticket sales soared to £469.7m. The rise can largely be attributed to a spate of reality television shows in which contestants vied for parts in West End musicals, persuading a new, younger audience to see the shows in the flesh.

Connie Fisher shot to fame when she won the 2006 BBC talent contest How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? to secure the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's production of The Sound of Music at the London Palladium. Maria was a huge success, pulling in nearly 8 million viewers for its final results show. Last year BBC 1 followed it up with Any Dream Will Do, a search for a Joseph to star in the West End revival of Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, won by Lee Mead.

ITV also made its own version of the musical talent contest, Grease Is The Word, although this only attracted 4 million viewers at its climax.

The television ratings reflecting the shows' popularity were replicated at the box office. Musicals accounted for 8.9 million theatre attendances last year, a rise of 19 per cent on 2006.

Although there is no breakdown for individual shows, more than a million people have been to see The Sound of Music since it opened in November 2006, while Joseph has been sold out since it opened. Both productions are currently booking until October 2008, but will almost certainly extend their runs beyond that date.

The question is whether having visited the West End to see the stage show of their favourite TV programme, this new audience will return to see future productions. Rosemary Squire, the president of the Society of London Theatres, said: "I'm very optimistic. If you go and have a wonderful time, you are more likely to go back."

Attendances at plays rose by a more modest 1 per cent to 2.95 million. Notable successes included Elling, starring John Simm at the Trafalgar Studios; and Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart at the Gielgud Theatre.

Ms Squire sounded a note of caution, warning that in 2008, London theatres are likely to suffer from the credit crunch and the weak dollar, which is also putting off theatregoers from America.