The art of turning a fine week into a season

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The Independent Online

When Mel Brooks went on stage after the rousing first night of The Producers in London this week, the audience hoped for a one-liner from the show's author. And they were not disappointed. "This," said Brooks, beaming at the actors, "is a cast worth paying." If we look at what the theatre has to offer in coming months, there should - on paper - be quite a few casts worth paying.

When Mel Brooks went on stage after the rousing first night of The Producers in London this week, the audience hoped for a one-liner from the show's author. And they were not disappointed. "This," said Brooks, beaming at the actors, "is a cast worth paying." If we look at what the theatre has to offer in coming months, there should - on paper - be quite a few casts worth paying.

Holly Hunter, a Hollywood star who really can act, will appear in Marina Carr's fine drama By the Bog of Cats. Another musical blockbuster follows: the stage version of Mary Poppins directed by Sir Richard Eyre. Billy Elliot is another hit film heading for the stage, with Elton John supplying the tunes. Morrissey and Bob Marley musicals were announced this week, as was the casting of Ewan McGregor in a revival of Guys and Dolls.

The health of the West End clearly depends on which week you take the patient's temperature. After months of uncertainty, and some high-profile early closures, this week everything suddenly has started to look rather rosy. There seems plenty to draw in the crowds - plenty, too, to bring in that elusive young audience.

But a week is a long time in the West End. The afterglow of the first night of Mel Brooks's deliciously politically incorrect comedy should not obscure the problems. In the short term, the producers of The Producers must find a replacement for the Broadway star Nathan Lane, drafted in for only 12 weeks, and a hard act to follow. Whether Brooks's New York Jewish humour will bring in the coach parties is also a question.

Putting Billy Elliot on stage is a gamble. Film-goers might feel they already know this one; and, pace Morrissey, the increasing reliance on familiar rock and pop for musical theatre means there is little sign of new composing talent arising (though the state of new writing for non-musical drama gives cause for optimism).

Then there is the matter of price - tickets, programmes, drinks, and everything else associated with going to the theatre - which this paper has harped on about for some time. The cost continues to deter a young audience used to cinema prices, and the commercial sector is doing too little about it. Even "cheap" seats in the gods, once the refuge of students and the young and not so affluent, are - sometimes at £30 - quickly becoming prohibitive. These issues must be addressed if a good week is to become a good winter.

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