With the news that An American In Paris transfers to Dominion Theatre in March 2017 it is clear that for American musicals the only way is up… to London. What makes the West End so attractive to American producers and our British likes and dislikes for musicals shared with our US counterparts. There is a security with productions we know from the silver screen and I will take a look at the best screen to stage (or stage to screen to stage in some cases) musicals in London now and in the future
I believe the attraction to An American In Paris is pure old Hollywood; the film had Gene Kelly as its star, Vincente Minnelli as the film’s director and the golden touch of George Gershwin. George Gershwin is old Hollywood composition and there is glamour with his work that the British just don’t have.
Perhaps that last sentence is unfair; the British can inspire Broadway musicals, Kinky Boots is a very British story about a shoe factory in Northampton. Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper took a British film (which includes Chiwetel Ejiofor’s excellent songs about shoes medley) and made it a classic American musical. It is the most exciting new musical on the London stage at the moment but there are so many excellent productions that I am struggling to keep up!
There are the old classics like Disney’s The Lion King, which is now in its 17th year and Disney are now adding Aladdin to its West End portfolio. It makes complete commercial sense to adapt classic films into musicals; audiences are familiar with the story so it becomes a safe evening (especially if you have spent a lot on tickets, programmes and sweets) and you are bringing along children. For many musicals were their first theatrical experience for this very reason; it was already a familiar concept.
Even as an adult the musicals I am attracted are based on stories familiar to me; The Bodyguard, which also contains the fabulous Beverley Knight, Funny Girl, with Sheridan Smith, Sunset Boulevard, Guys and Dolls, and Mrs Henderson Presents were either originally known as films or in some cases appeared on the stage, then film and now stage again.
No doubt getting big names is an important part of West End musicals being successful but the reputation alone can see a musical survive for years and years without big names. The Lion King’s star is its name; Dream Girls is coming over with a respected but not necessarily household name in Amber Riley because its reputation as a production (and its eventual stage adaptation where Jennifer Hudson won an Academy Award) is known worldwide. For many musicals to succeed in London the unique selling point is simply “I loved the film of that!”