Corks may pop but it's just a show

WHICH West End musical was forced to close last week? City of Angels? No, that announced its closure because of half empty houses but will linger on until next month. Not Leonardo; that was the week before. Not Sunset Boulevard or Grease; they both opened.

No, it was Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, which went under after four weeks at the Criterion Theatre playing to 20 per cent houses and losing pounds 15,000 a week. In the helter- skelter of last week it slipped away, virtually unnoticed.

In a week of glitz we might have seen not just two hyped openings but one successfully hyped closure. After the American producers of the widely praised but poorly attended City of Angels gave the cast notice to quit, the ensuing publicity resulted in full houses. The producers are now considering a reprieve.

Questions are also being asked about whether the glitz and all its expense - pounds 100,000 for the Savoy Hotel party thrown by Andrew Lloyd Webber after Sunset Boulevard opened - actually sells a single ticket.

Innocent fans came off badly in the hype surrounding Grease. Hundreds of teenage girls came to London for a widely publicised audition for the lead role which, surprise, surprise, went to an American pop singer.

Michael White, the veteran West End producer of musicals such as A Chorus Line, Annie, and the current hit Crazy for You, started the first night party tradition in the 1970s. Before that, as he recalls, stars would just go round to the producer's house for dinner. He has now become sceptical of the value of the first night party - with one exception.

'Sunset Boulevard's was stunning,' he said. 'It was like the ultimate luxury liner. It helps gives the impression of success.'

Mark Borkowski, a promoter in charge of publicising the forthcoming show Maxwell, The Musical has already had offers from top caterers to run the first night party, as have the producers of Hair, scheduled for September.

But ticket-selling publicity does not come from parties but from the word-of-mouth of satisfied customers and from properly targeted marketing. Mr White stages a special afternoon preview during early rehearsals of his musicals for coach party tour operators.

This might explain why City of Angels was only playing to 60 per cent houses. Its poster of

a half-naked woman, Raymond Chandler style, had little to say to the coach party musical fans. It was witty and cleverly staged. But it had unmemorable tunes.

As the musicals expert Mark Steyn said last week: 'It was the pounds 30 seats which proved hard to sell. For that price you want Miss Saigon. It's not the same going back home and saying you saw a show where there were some pretty funny fellows and some nice songs.'

(Photograph omitted)

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