The UK theatre industry is a vast entertainment network that touches every corner of our little island, but reaches every country in the world. The West End theatre district sits at its centre, attracting millions of people and millions of pounds every year, and indeed, reports continual record-breaking increases in attendance and revenue on an annual basis. When looking back at 2014 for instance, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) revealed that gross box office revenue in London’s West End was up 7% in 2014 from the previous year, while UK cinemas saw their box office fall by 2.9% in the same period. It still doesn’t make sense to me then that the theatre industry, and musical theatre in particular, isn’t awarded the same level of respect given to the film industry, for example.
How many times have you brought up the topic of musical theatre in conversation, only to be met with a snort of derision and a look that say, “Really…musicals?”. Admitting to being a fan of musicals is something almost shameful in the eyes of some people, but why? Is there any difference between the theatregoer and the film buff, or the theatregoer and the music lover? Complete strangers will talk to one another about the films they’ve seen and which genre they most enjoy (horror, rom-com, action, drama…), or compare their favourite singers and share with each other what type of music they like to listen to (reggae, pop, rock, country, metal…). theatregoers can only really have a conversation like this with other theatregoers though, otherwise the interest just isn’t there, and just like Baby, you’re going to end up sitting in the corner.
Everyone is a fan of something, but a love of musical theatre is just not as understood in the same way that perhaps, a love of sports is. There really isn’t any difference between the two however. In fact, just for fun, lets compare musical theatre to say…football, for instance, and see just how different or similar the two are.
The typical football fan has a general love for ‘the beautiful game’ but supports one team in particular, which they love with a passion. The same is true of musical theatre fans, who have a general love of musicals, but usually have that one favourite show which they love above all others, i.e. The Phantom of the Opera, in my case. Top of the English football league system is the Premier League, which is football’s West End. The Premier League is dominated by the big hitters such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, not unlike the West End where long-running shows like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, The Lion King and Mamma Mia! reign supreme.
Just as football and musical theatre both have their Top Dogs in regards to teams/shows, so too do they have their Top Dogs in regards to players/performers. I’m sure you’ve heard of Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Diego Maradona, Bobby Charlton, Cristiano Ronaldo, George Best, Pele or Frank Lampard, for example? You don’t need to be a football fan to know the names of these legendary players. The theatre industry has its own players on the stage who are iconic names in their field, such as Michael Ball, Elaine Paige, Idina Menzel, Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, Louise Dearman, Kerry Ellis, Colm Wilkinson, Patti LuPone, John Owen-Jones… Football and musical fans could sit in their respective groups and discuss for hours who are the best players/performers, and would react with similar excitement to the news of a big signing or casting announcement. “Radamel Falcao is close to joining Chelsea on loan? OMG!”. “Beverly Knight is starring as Grizabella in Cats this autumn? OMG!”.
Going to see a West End musical is just like going to see a Premier League match really. Each football team is defined by their kit and team colours – i.e. blue for Chelsea – and has an iconic club crest, such as West Ham’s ‘Hammers’, Tottenham Hotspur’s ‘Cockerel’, or Chelsea’s ‘Lion’. The same is true of West End shows: hello? Green for Wicked, anyone? Les Miserables has its Cosette, The Phantom of the Opera its mask and rose, Miss Saigon its helicopter and The Book of Mormon its white shirt and black tie. Singing isn’t restricted just to the stage either, as all football fans have their songs and delight in sharing them at matches – Liverpool FC’s iconic team anthem, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ even originates from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel! Just as ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ is instantly synonymous with West Ham, so is ‘Defying Gravity’ with Wicked, or ‘Pure Imagination’ with Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, or ‘Bring Him Home’ with Les Miserables.
While football fans will sit at home watching games on TV, ‘Greatest Matches’ DVD’s, or playing FIFA on Xbox perhaps, musical theatre fans will be watching musical films, DVD recordings of live performances, or listening to cast albums. The football fan will sit wearing their team shirt and scarf, perhaps drinking beer out of their team emblemmed glass while a poster of their favourite player watches with them from the wall. The home of the musical theatre fan will be similarly adorned with musical-themed mugs, key-rings, fridge magnets, posters, programs, etc. Both football and theatre know the power of merchandising.
The more you look at the two, the more similarities you see between them. Musical theatre fans aren’t so different from football fans, film fans, musical fans, or any other, so don’t ever be embarrassed to declare your love of musicals. Play your show tunes loudly and wear your logo-ed shirts, and if anyone ever shoots that ‘Really…musicals?’ look your way, shake your jazz hands in their face and high-kick them into next week, because being a musical theatre fan is something to be proud of. Don’t ever forget that.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Tuesday 16th June 2015