Musicals boom in West End hits right note with theatre fans

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The Independent Culture

With at least 20 new productions in London's theatreland in 2006, the West End is alive with the sound of musicals - and regular theatre-goers are thrilled.

It is one of the busiest years for song and dance in living memory, according to a survey. The Whatsonstage.com website found that 71 per cent of theatre lovers were perfectly content, and 42 per cent said that for them, there was no such thing as too many musicals.

Half of the more than 1,000 theatre-goers questioned said the abundance of musicals had created the biggest buzz in British theatre for years. Among this year's bumper crop are 12 revivals, including the current hits Evita and Sunday in the Park with George, and eight new shows, including from Broadway the hotly anticipated shows Wicked and Spamalot .

Wicked, the Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, which has become cult viewing in New York, opens in September. Nearly three-fifths of the survey named it as the production they were most looking forward to. The recently-arrived adult puppet show Avenue Q, and Spamalot, the adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, were also on the must-see lists.

The British public has already indicated massive interest in the stage version of the hit film Dirty Dancing, which became the fastest-selling show in West End history when tickets went on sale earlier this year.

But theatre fans do have some quibbles about the current glut. More than a third would like to see more home-grown productions, rather than Broadway imports; 46 per cent would like to see more new musicals instead of revivals; and 68 per cent said that in the wake of the success of We Will Rock You and Mama Mia!, there were too many pop compilation musicals.

Venues are at such a premium that many playhouses, small theatres which have normally been the home of plays, have been co-opted for musicals.

Terri Paddock, the editorial director of Whatsonstage.com, said it was remarkable to be experiencing such a boom only one year after the London bombings.

"Two years ago, the West End was flying high with three big openings in the autumn season - The Producers, The Woman in White and Mary Poppins. In 2006, it has been more like three big openings a month."

There were some concerns that musicals were squeezing out "straight plays". "But I think that's a happy dilemma to have," she said. "So many times in recent years, when you walked around the West End, especially in the summer, you saw dark theatre after dark theatre.

"Today there's a real buzz. But next year some producers will be licking their wounds, because I don't think that all these shows will survive."

Richard Pulford, of the Society of London Theatre, said audience responses were a function of the shows themselves. "If what is on is strong, you get a strong response, whether musicals or plays. Given the [hot] weather, audiences are pretty good," he said.

Nearly one in 10 of the participants in the Whatsonstage.com survey said that they intended to see all of the new openings - despite top-price West End tickets being around £55.

Shows past, present and future

BEEN AND GONE:

* Movin' Out - Apollo Victoria Theatre

* Mack and Mabel - Criterion

* Show Boat - Royal Albert Hall

* The Rocky Horror Show - Playhouse

OPENED THIS YEAR AND CURRENTLY RUNNING:

* Sinatra - London Palladium

* Whistle Down the Wind - Palace

* Footloose - Novello

* Sunday in the Park with George - Wyndham's

* Evita - Adelphi

* Avenue Q - Noel Coward Theatre

* The Boy Friend - Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

LONG-TERM SURVIVORS:

* Billy Elliot - Victoria Palace

* Lion King - Lyceum

* The Producers - Theatre Royal Drury Lane

* Phantom of the Opera - Her Majesty's Theatre

* Mary Poppins - Prince Edward

* Mamma Mia! - Prince of Wales

* We Will Rock You - Dominion

* Les Miserables - Queens Theatre

* Guys and Dolls - Piccadilly

* Blood Brothers - Phoenix

* Chicago - Cambridge

* The Rat Pack - Savoy

* Dancing in the Streets - Playhouse

STILL TO COME:

* Wicked - Apollo Victoria

* Spamalot - Palace

* Cabaret - Lyric

* The Sound of Music - London Palladium

* Dirty Dancing - Aldwych

* Porgy and Bess - Savoy

* Daddy Cool - Shaftesbury Theatre

* Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - Theatre Royal Haymarket

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