Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Musical chairs on Broadway and the West End

New musicals can produce some unlikely winners – and losers

Holler If Ya Hear Me: no Broadway love for Tupac

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 09:55


It’s only a dozen or so yards from London’s Palace Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue to the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Both are currently staging takes on Glen Hansard’s musical past, but also tell a tale about a revenue source many heritage acts may benefit from in the future.

The Commitments is currently in full swing in the Palace, the musical spin-off based on Roddy Doyle’s book which became Alan Parker’s film which first put Hansard in the frame, so to speak.

Down the road, it’s Once, the musical of John Carney’s film which saw Hansard winning an Oscar along with Marketa Irglova for “Falling Slowly”.

Musicals, it would seem, still have cachet and can make cash. While London’s West End and New York’s Broadway offer plenty of choice, it’s telling that many new-school musicals are now getting their skates on. From the visceral, energetic Fela! about Fela Kuti’s colourful life to the forthcoming musical on Stax Records, musicals are enjoying a bit of a cutting-edge revival.

The thinking behind many of these is to hopefully pull a much younger crowd into the stalls than is usually the case for West End or Broadway musicals. Less traditional fare may prove to be attractive to people who’d never previously considered going to a musical as part of a night out.

But this can also backfire. Look at Holler If Ya Hear Me, the musical based on the lyrics and poetry of Tupac Shakur. It opened in New York last month and, after terrible reviews and bad box office business for the 55 performances, closes this weekend. The New York theatre-going public went to see Jersey Boys again instead.

Yet as we see with Once and The Commitments, there is still good business to be had in musicals if the material is middle-of-the-road enough for mass appeal. Coming soon: Mumford & Sons the musical.