Blockbuster musicals in need of tonic

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The Independent Online

Arts Correspondent

Theatregoers are turning away from the big blockbuster musicals, according to figures released today.

The figures show attendances at London theatres reached a 10-year high of 11.5 million. But for the first time since 1988 audiences for the blockbuster musicals have fallen.

The statistics are confirmed by evidence in the West End today. She Loves Me, the musical which won a clutch of Laurence Olivier awards this year, has been forced to close because of falling audiences. The all-black musical Mama I Want To Sing has just posted closure notices.

The figures come from a bleak report on the performing arts from the independent Policy Studies Institute, which goes on to express "increasing concern" over the future of regional theatres in this country as a number are "going dark" for extended periods in 1995, while others are ceasing all in-house production to become solely receiving houses for touring companies.

To add to the gloom, it also reports that for the big national theatre, opera and ballet companies, the percentage of income derived from sponsorship, donations and other public grants has fallen in recent years.

The PSI statistics show that box-office revenues for London theatre in 1993 (the last year surveyed) showed a 10 per cent rise over the previous year, with attendances rising by 600,000 to 11.5 million. One in three ticket sales went to overseas visitors and half of those to tourists from north America.

But the most striking statistic was the 16.8 per cent fall in 1993 in numbers of people going to see modern musicals, the first year-on-year decline since 1988, even though they still provide half of all attendances in the West End.

Meanwhile, traditional musicals and classical plays saw marked increases in numbers attending. And the number of performances of classical plays went up by 58.4 per cent, from 1,579 to 2,501, just over half the number of performances of modern musicals.

Modern drama, on the other hand, fared badly. The percentage share of seats on offer for modern drama reached a record low of 9 per cent in 1993.