The top 5 gay musicals… that aren’t

As someone who used to work in online LGBT news media, and who now works in theatrical media, Pink Paper’s “Top 5 gay West End musicals” article piqued my interest for multiple reasons when it turned up on Twitter.

Unfortunately, it’s so riddled with errors that it’s almost laughable.

The West End has never had so much competition attracting tourists as the capital has become the place to be this summer.

Rather than give up, the industry has pulled out all the stops to entice eager theatre fans, and it seems they have followed the advice of theatre producer Max Bialystock, following the manta: “whatever you do on the stage, keep it snappy, keep it happy, keep it gay!”.

Unfortunately, while that quote does indeed come from The Producers, where Max Bialystock and business Leo Bloom attempt to create an über-camp pro-Nazi musical with the hope of fleecing their investors, the line quoted comes from the director they hire, Roger De Bris, and not Bialystock.

And if West End producers really were following the “manta” [sic], surely all five musicals would be gay, or gay-themed? Instead, only one of the five could be said to be gay-themed – and it’s neither a musical nor in the West End.

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This is not a review of The Wizard of Oz

Last night, Adam and I went to see The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium, with tickets provided by Superbreak, who provide theatre & hotel deals for many West End musicals.

The show itself was only on its third preview, with press night not until March 1. It’s clearly an unfinished work: all the technical aspects of scene changes, onstage automation and flying sequences seemed to be being executed at a gingerly slow pace.

I did enjoy the cast performances, especially Hannah Waddingham as the Wicked Witch of the West. Danielle Hope’s voice, which I adored throughout the run of Over the Rainbow, the BBC1 talent show that recruited her, was everything I hoped it would be. And Paul Keating’s physicality as the Scarecrow nicely echoed that of Ray Bolger’s in the 1937 film.

But it’s the link to the film that concerns me, as I left the theatre not knowing whether the design team want to be inspired by the film, to slavishly copy it or actually produce a grand spectacle worthy of the Palladium stage. At the moment, different scenes take wildly different approaches.

The most effective piece of ‘theatre’ at the moment comes in Act 2, as action moves away from the journey to the Emerald City and into the Wicked Witch’s castle. The production design here is, for the main part, lovely – just the right mix of gothic, with a couple of nods to Wicked without going overboard. Waddingham’s Act 2 outfit shows what this show has the potential to be — a great-looking visual spectacle which takes the elements of the film, builds upon them and presents them in a form that works for a theatre audience. It’s a shame her ‘look’ isn’t consistent throughout — in Act 1, she’s costumed in a manner far more consistent with the film.

To convert what is actually a fantasy film with occasional songs into a fully-fledged musical requires extra numbers. I was really looking forward to Andrew Lloyd Webber reuniting with former collaborator Tim Rice, but (Waddingham’s Witch’s Song apart) the new material seems to accentuate the wrong emotional moments. The show needs a big musical number to open, and one to close — and (as yet) has neither.

A lot can change in a month, so don’t take these comments as a review of a finished product. I’ll be curious to see what sort of work gets put into the show between now and press night — and, if the reworked Love Never Dies is anything to go by, beyond that. After Act 1, I was optimistic enough to believe that the problems the show has were surmountable. By the end of Act 2, I’d reversed my view — but after sleeping on it for a night, I’m prepared to give the production team the benefit of the doubt. For now.