Imagine This - Opening a new musical mid ‘credit crunch’

Imagine This is a brand new musical set in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 opening at the West End’s New London Theatre this November.

A musical set against the backdrop of the holocaust? Opening in the run up to Christmas? As the UK slides into recession? It wouldn’t appear a recipe for success.

Let’s be honest, this is going to be a tough sell.

Which is why, earlier this week, the producers invited the press along to talk to the creative team and listen to three numbers from the show performed by the cast. Clearly there’s a desire to get some good word of mouth out and an awareness that this brand new musical is coming into town.

Without wanting to pass any judgment on the quality of the material on show, what I would say struck me about the event was the refreshing honesty of everyone involved.

There was no attempt to pretend that this was anything other than an uphill task, bringing something brand spanking new, without a star name, into Theatreland.

Its producer Beth Trachtenberg acknowledged as much. Speaking at the event, she admitted:

“All of us working on Imagine This are aware every day that we have been given the unique, challenging and thrilling gift of creating a new original musical - not one based on a book, not one based on a movie, not based on a song catalogue, not based on any underlying material at all, not a transplant from Broadway and not a revival. We are engaged in a rare and sadly fast disappearing endeavour.”

“We face a formidable challenge in letting people know about this new musical and letting people know that they’re not going to come to the theatre to be depressed. They’re going to come to the theatre and have an unforgettable evening.”

The show’s director - rising star Timothy Sheader, who has just finished his first season as artistic director of the Open Air theatre - was similarly frank.

“It’s hard. Economic times are hard. We’re under no illusions - we had to wait for a theatre because we’re not Hairspray and we’re not [based on] a movie. We did really well to get the theatre and then ‘boom comes the economic crisis’.”

It was all a refreshing change from the bluff and over-confidence which you usually get when a new show sails into town. What it also made clear was that for many of the team involved, this is clearly a labour of love.

One of the ensemble stood up and spoke very movingly about how his grandmother had survived the concentration camps and told him stories of the horrors which had gone on there, while Trachtenberg stressed that this is more than just another show.

“While we are presenting a musical and our goal is to entertain an audience, we are doing it in the most honourable way we possibly can.”

“Someday hopefully we’ll all learn the lessons of 2,000 years ago, of 60 years ago, of today in places like Rwanda and Darfur, because if we don’t we’re destined to keep repeating it.”

It’s an admirable sentiment and one can only hope that the end result is a long-running hit.

Ultimately, though, whether this show is successful or not (and don’t write it off - Les Miserables sounded like an implausible concept) is yet to be decided.

But, theatre is a risky business and you don’t get many bigger risks than opening a brand new musical in the West End.

10 Comments

This evening I went to the New London Theatre to see "Imagine This", the new musical set in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 and despite my initial trepidation I found it was a Musical of great merit and distinction.
The script deals with this harrowing subject matter intelligently and sensitively and ultimately moves the audience to a spontaneous standing ovation by its full throttle climax. The cast are superbly talented and deliver a powerfully moving performance with refreshingly honest sense of conviction.
I understand however that the critics have been waiting to crucify this musical because of its subject matter and frankly I fear no matter what ultimately had been produced on that stage they would have panned it purely based on artistic snobbery. However, they are the same critics who attempted to destroy "Les Miserables" and quite frankly I believe they've fallen fowl of the same failure to recognise the West Ends need for challenging productions amongst its plethora of frothy tribute shows and Disneyesc bilge. The West End going audience deserves more than that and thankfully "Imagine This" delivers where so many other productions have failed.
What frankly irks me is had I paid any attention to those critics I might have allowed this little gem to pass me by. Luckily I decided to see for myself. I only hope others have the opportunity to see musical theatre at its finest before the critics get their way and stick the boot in yet again.
I'm definitely going to recommend "Imagine This" to all my friends.

Very moving musical.

Keep an eye out for Nathan Attard... what a great little actor in such a young boy... he's definitely destined for big things!!

Saw this new musical tonight and was also concerned about how this sensitive subject could successfully translate into a musical. But it does just that. An outstanding cast with great voices, this production has a message for all. If we are to educate people on the horrors of the last world war, what better way to do it than with superb entertainment. Makes learning a pleasure and I would recommend anyone to go.

I saw this show on the press night and I found it touched my emotions. The show ended with a well deserved standing ovation.

I was taken with the actors and everything they gave in their performances including Jamie Davis who at 9 is the youngest of the 3 boys that take turn to play Leon. He impressed me with his acting ability and he looked completely at home as part of the company. Well done young man - I am sure we will see more of you in the future.

I saw this amazing musical on Saturday 6th November as it had been recommended to me. I thought it was one of the most powerful, thought provoking West End shows I had seen in a long time. I thought the story was powerful and the music equally so. I am a teacher at a seconday school teaching both History and Citizenship and was until a few minutes ago going to organise a trip to the New London Theatre with some of our students in the New Year. However, I was completely dismayed to find the show is closing on 20th December. I am now not able to arrange a coach load of students for this trip in such a short period of time. I am so disappointed and saddened that I cannot go ahead with the visit for our students who I think would have found it as emotive and powerful as I did and I am a teacher who takes students to Auswitch every year to get an understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust.
This show is one that should go on for a long time because of the stories it tells, the fantstic scores and the amazing cast.

I saw this show two nights ago (10th December) and thought it was incredible. i can't belive it is closing as i wanted to see it again! I think it should stay open for a long time has it really has the potential to be the next BIG musical like Les Mis or West Side. It was amazing and received a standing ovation. Congratulations to the HUGELY talented cast. Shame on the critics who have badly reviewed this show. Go and See it before it closes, I would recommend it to anyone!

I cannot believe that this show has closed, it is a crying shame! I took a group of 50 people to see this on a Saturday afternoon and we all found it amazing. It was very powerful, with excellent acting and singing. It received a standing ovation. Many of our group would see it again. We don't know what the critics are talking about.

It is a travesty that 'Imagine This' has had to close. I have never been quite so moved by a production and this is testament to the wonderfully talented cast. The score is haunting and beautiful and I echo what others have said: shame on the critics for their treatment of this show. Give me 'Imagine This' over the likes of 'Dirty Dancing' and 'Avenue Q' anytime.

I cant believe the powers that be could close such a brilliant production. I went to see it with my daughter on th 17th Dec. We felt it was without doubt one of the best musicals that we have ever seen. The cast were amazing, so talented and professional. The story was clever and easy to follow. The score was haunting and melodic and whirled around in my head for hours later. At the end was a much deserved standing ovation. I applaud all who had a hand in the show and if it came back on in London or elsewhere i would definitely go to see it again

I can only reiterate the comments made by others, this was a powerful and moving show, which did indeed leave a sense of hope at the end. A brilliant piece of theatre.

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