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.”
“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.