Ohmigod You Guys! Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre defies gravity on its first birthday
Happy Birthday to the Grand Canal Theatre, which is celebrating its first anniversary today. As bubble legacies go, Dublin could do worse than this scarlet theatre, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and built by, er, Nama developer Joe O’Reilly. If the Olympia is the interior of an elaborate birthday cake, the Grand Canal Theatre looks like the inside of a heart, with its patrons bobbling like blood cells through its ruby arteries to the strains of touring West End musical productions.
These are now more likely to come to Ireland than ever before: The Sound of Music*, Sister Act and Dirty Dancing will all have opening nights down in Grand Canal Square over the next 12 months, as the theatre’s general manager Stephen Faloon tells John Collins in this week’s Business Podcast.
So many ambitious Tiger-era projects were conceived with an entirely different set of demographics and disposable incomes in mind than would prove to exist by the time it came to launch day, leading to crimson faces all round. Is the €80 million Grand Canal Theatre different? We’ll have to wait until later this year for the company accounts that show how the bottom line is working out, but its management, Live Nation, is certainly celebrating bums on seats – more than 500,000 bums, to be precise, in its debut year.
With any luck, it will only be the upholstery that’s in the red. Faloon has confidence that the theatre’s turnover will be able to defy the gravity of the ticket-repellent economy – the size of the venue certainly gives it a pulling power for big-name big productions that its competitors can’t match.
“It’s an important thing in terms of economics. There’s 2,111 seats in the theatre,” says Faloon. ”If we look at, say, The Sound of Music, for example, which is coming to us in April, it’s a 14 x 45-foot truck show, so it’s a very, very big show. In terms of the physical cost of bringing that over and the physical cost of housing the 100 people who work on the show, you need to actually have the right amount of seats in your theatre to be able to make it worth their while,” he says.
“They had a real problem, as did an awful lot of the West End producers, in bringing stuff over to Ireland, as really 1,000 seats didn’t make sense to them financially… I think the word is out now that stuff works here, that it’s financially viable for them to come over here. A year and a half ago we were banging down their doors getting them to come over here. Now they’re approaching us.”
Like silver white winters that melt into springs – just to pluck a random example from the air – musicals count among my favourite things. These days, most of them are postmodern, yes-we-know-this-is-ridiculous eye-rollers rather than ultra-sincere Climb Ev’ry Mountain types. In any case, the common assertion that big musical numbers merge all human feeling into a crass mush is usually, as far as I can see, made by the same people who refuse to dance at parties. They’re not really emotionally qualified to judge.
Sadly, anyone who was dragged along to an old-school, knee-punishing Andrew Lloyd Webber behemoth in their emo-teen years probably hasn’t recovered enough to buy a ticket for, say, the sharp, Californian gloss (but adult humour) of multi-Olivier-winning Legally Blonde or the amazingly feminist Oz prequel Wicked, both of which Faloon says he is hoping to bring to Dublin. But the real question is whether the ticket prices are indeed low enough to attract the musical-loving masses in these otherwise joyless times.
*I saw this touring production of The Sound of Music in the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, and while it’s great that Jason Donovan is in gainful employment, everyone knows the real stars of The Sound of Music are the talented kids who take it in turns to play Gretl, the youngest of the Von Trapps.