A West End run or national tour of a best loved musical can cost millions to stage and market – usually a three to six month campaign ahead of opening night. Consequently, with social distancing and other restrictions in place due to the pandemic, from a business point of view it's easy to understand why their approach to reopening the big shows has been cautious, to say the least.
With no insurance and no firm guarantees from the government, who can blame them. Just look at what happened when they tried to rescue last year's panto season with a limited number of Covid aware productions. Disaster.
I sense change is in the air, however. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I'll be very surprised if social distancing is still in place in theatres this autumn. This belief was lent more credence one morning this week when I checked my email inbox.
Over the last week or two, more and more press releases have been dropping announcing the return of some of our biggest productions to the stage, either on London's West End or to venues across the UK.
Shows like Looking Good Dead with Adam Woodyatt and Gaynor Faye (see it at the King's in October), Matthew Bourne's world premiere of The Midnight Bell, Mary Poppins, Bring it On with Love Island's Amber Davies and Strictly winner Louis Smith, The Addams Family (both coming to the Festival Theatre in January and February respectively), Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds and Dreamgirls (popping into the Playhouse in April).
All are major productions with extensive runs or tours to honour.
It's a sign that producers are becoming more confident of their marketplace.
The other morning, it wasn't one but five announcements that awaited me in my emails. One revealed that Clive Rowe, star of Tracey Beaker, is to join the West End company of The Prince of Egypt when it reopens on the West End in July while another declared that the mind-bending Broadway hit, Be More Chill, will open for a limited 10 week run run, also on the West End, from June 30. Another production to watch out for next time you’re in the Big Smoke is Moulin Rouge! The Musical. The acclaimed show will receive its UK premiere on November 12.
Thankfully, it's not just London that's reopening. The Jersey Boys is heading back out on the road as is Everybody's Talking About Jamie, which sashays back into the Festival Theatre next April.
So, while we might still have a bit to wait, the signs are good although we are not out of the woods yet. The fifth email to drop that day was from Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, revealing their reluctant decision to again postpone their panto, the 2020 production postponed until 2021 will now take place in 2022.
It highlights just how fragile the recovery of theatre and entertainment can be. Let’s hope that, in this case, they are just being overly cautious.