The word closing is defined in the dictionary as: “The end or conclusion.” This literal meaning doesn’t however allude to the immediate inference of a negative outcome. When people say they’ve ‘closed a door’ on something, that means that something good has come to an end or they’re putting behind them some traumatic incident – neither is an appealing prospect. Hearing a ‘closing argument’ means that this much-longed for World Peace is still out of reach as crimes are still being committed. The sounding of the ‘closing time’ bell at the pub means the end of a good night out! And of course, in the theatre world, a ‘closing notice’ being posted signals “the end or conclusion” of a show.
Shows closing are an inevitability in this business; to keep it fresh and healthily progressive instead of stagnating in a pool of stale repetitiveness, there has to be a turnover of productions – “Out with the old and in with the new” is an apt phrase which springs to mind here. While theatregoers must accept this if they truly have a love for this art-form, it can still stick like a knife when the news of a show’s closure breaks. I have to wonder though: what particular knife cuts the deepest? When a show opens in the West End, you never know how long it will be around for, with some shows not even lasting the year while others can still be going a quarter of a century later. Everything in life has a beginning and an end, but is that ending more tragic if it comes sooner or later?
There have been a number of shows within the past couple of years which have caused something of a commotion when they closed earlier than was perhaps expected. The early closure of the original Stiles and Drewe musical Betty Blue Eyes shocked many, as did that of other seemingly popular shows such as Lend Me A Tenor, Crazy For You, for example. Most recently Ghost The Musical, one of 2011′s biggest shows to hit the West End, announced that it would be closing in October after just fourteen months. The general consensus among theatregoers was that the closure of these shows has come before their time, and in these particular cases, I have to agree. Betty Blue Eyes was the type of original British musical theatre that should be encouraged and Lend Me A Tenor was undiluted farcical fun – exactly the kind of entertainment we need in London’s Theatreland, while Crazy For You was a wonderful homage to the classic golden age of the Hollywood musical. I saw Ghost The Musical earlier this year and thought it was a wonderful piece of theatre; tear-jerking proof that film-adapted musicals can be a success in and of themselves. Its forthcoming departure from the West End is a surprising occurence for me, given its early popularity.
I think for me personally though, the biggest travesty was the early closure of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies. The show divided audiences and certainly had a few problems (mostly with some of its plot points, which were rectified in the Australian production, might I add), but I adored it. It was a stunningly visual piece of theatre with a beautiful, rich score and an emotional depth that’s hard to find these days, and for all its denouncers, it had many more die-hard fans who supported it with regular weekly visits. I still stand by the belief that there were and are shows playing which didn’t match up to Love Never Dies and that it deserved to be given more of a chance. Alas, this wasn’t to be though, and I think the Love Never Dies-shaped hole is still sorely felt by an expansive number of theatregoers.
On the opposite end of the spectrum though, there are those shows which have seemingly been around forever and exist inside this bubble of longevity, assumed safe from that cold, steel blade. When that blade does then fall, it can illicit quite the reactionary horrified gasp from the theatregoers. Only recently there was the shock announcement that Chicago is set to close this autumn after fifteen years in the West End, and just this week, the rumours of Blood Brother’s closure were officially confirmed. After nearly twenty-four years, the third longest-running show in the West End will be saying its final goodbye on 27th October 2012. Both shows were considered staples of the West End, perpetual favourites of the London theatregoer and still popular choices in the tourist scene. When a show has lasted this long it obviously works, so when the decision is made to close, it can seem an incomprehensible one. After all: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The West End without Chicago and Blood Brothers just doesn’t seem right, but more so than the ‘fledgling’ shows, they buy into that earlier premise of the vital need for a cyclical theatre scene. Their longevity is a testament to their creative brilliance, but it is also a wall that keeps out the next wave of shows. Still, while room does need to be made for the new, there are some shows that just seem untouchable; can you imagine a West End without Les Miserables or The Phantom of the Opera? The realisation that they are not untouchable can be an eye-opening slap in the face.
The closure of any show is a sad occurrence at the end of the day. As to which loss is felt the most, the fledgling bird or the seasoned veteran…well, they both bite deep in different ways so who knows? Why not share your thoughts on the matter though and perhaps the answer to this muddied question will appear a little clearer…
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 7th August 2012