Though I was in Australia for the two weeks, it never felt like I was much away: even if I was starting my day when you were ending yours of the day before, then ending mine while London was still hard at work so was a little out-of-synch, e-mail and the internet was delivering a constant feed of news and views from across the world (or at any rate, for my world of the theatre). Travel, they say, broadens the mind; but the internet also shrinks the world.
As I flew back across time zones and continents on Sunday – and gaining back the day I’d lost going there – it may have taken some 31 hours to travel door-to-door from my hotel in Adelaide to my flat in Borough, but watching the route map as I flew I also noticed just how much territory one covers: just leaving Australia’s mainland takes the first four hours, then you’re finally over the oceans before skirting Indonesia to head into Singapore for a one-hour stop-over; then on across a great swathe of Asia, skirting Bangkok in Thailand and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia (both of which have been stop-overs for me in the past) to cross over India, then the entire reach of Europe from Russia to the Middle East and on to London. The world suddenly seems a lot smaller to me.
But then globalisation has also contributed to the sense, of course, that the world is shrinking, too. With Starbucks on every street corner, it now seems, in New York and increasingly in London, as well, they’ve just opened their first outlet in Adelaide. Lucky Adelaide!
But it’s not just coffee, of course, that the principle can be applied to. Cameron Mackintosh long ago exported the phenomenon of the identically-reproduced musical across the world. Australia, being thousands upon thousands of miles from the West End and Broadway but an English speaking territory all the same, is often at the frontline of decisions whether to allow local producers to “do their own thing” or require slavish reproductions of the original productions. According to a feature in The Australian last week, “Historically, big Broadway musicals travel under so-called replica rights, whereby an Australian production will be restaged by the originating creative team. Upcoming productions of Wicked, Monty Python’s Spamalot (both in Melbourne) and Billy Elliot (Sydney) will be realised in such a fashion. It not only maintains a production’s integrity but boosts the producer’s returns. Non-replica rights, in which a company can take the show and reproduce or even re-imagine it with their own creative talents, as do Melbourne’s the Production Company and Peter Cousens’s new Kookaburra: The National Musical Theatre Company, don’t come up as quickly, if at all.”
But the quirkier and edgier the show, the more likely it is that Australian creative teams will be allowed to put their own imprint on a show there. Melbourne Theatre Company have originated new productions of the Broadway hits Urinetown and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (the latter of which has now just transferred to Sydney Theatre Company). According to Simon Phillips of MTC (Melbourne Theatre Company, that is, not to be confused with Manhattan Theatre Club), “It’s about scale. The kind of shows we at the MTC can think about producing are smaller-scale shows. We go for the quirky little ones and often the timing is freer and the producers aren’t over-protective.”
But sometimes the authors are. According to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald ahead of the transfer of Spelling Bee, composer William Finn and book writer Rachel Sheinkin went to see it in Melbourne, and their arrival was, according to Phillips, “horrific, with Finn in particular a tough critic at first”. Phillips is reported as saying, “We ended up sayhing, ‘Actually, we can’t take it on, because what he’s saying is, ‘In America, this is what they did, this is right’.” Finn apparently eventually came around. In an e-mail to the Herald, Finn is quoted as saying that what was an ensemble fo unknowns in New York became in Australia “many powerful performances overflowing with talent all going at the same time…. In Australia, the show rocked. Which is weird, because the music, which I wrote, doesn’t rock at all”.
The West End and Broadway, of course, regularly trade shows and personnel between them. Cameron Mackintosh once again blazed the trail of having his own office in New York to manage his operations there (though he still contracts out the management of individual shows out, as many shows do there); and ATG have recently established a New York office, too. But Broadway producers are increasingly formalising their approaches to the West End as well, realising they need to be in on the “ground floor” to get ahead of the game. Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams were the first to broker a first-look transfer deal for Donmar Warehouse shows, though they were not involved in the most recent transfer to New York of the Donmar-originated Frost/Nixon which saw original London co-producers Matthew Byam Shaw, Arielle Tepper Madover, Robert Fox and Act Productions head up a consortium of producers that also included David Binder, Debra Black, Annette Niemtzow, Harlene Freezer and the Weinstein Company to take it there.
Of course, the American producing model is that many cooks are needed to make the broth over there. Bob Boyett, however, is putting fingers in many pies, to continue the cooking analogy: as well as having a first-look deal with business partner Bill Haber under the banner Boyett Ostar for National Theatre productions – from which they have already spearheaded Broadway transfers for Jumpers, Democracy, The Pillowman, The History Boys and Coram Boy, with varying degrees of success – he has recently brokered a three-year deal on his own score with the Menier Chcolate Factory to bring their productions to the US as well.
The Menier is therefore being set on a global path, though in fact it is for American shows that they have made their name here: their West End transfers have been for the off-Broadway hit Fully Committed, as well as new productions of the Broadway classics Sunday in the Park with George and Little Shop of Horrors. But Sunday is now to be the first of their shows to transfer back to New York – and though Boyett is a keen investor, the transfer of that to Roundabout’s Studio 54, where it will be a Roundabout Theatre production, pre-dates this new arrangement rather than initiates it.
Next up at the Menier, of course, and bringing this blog entry full circle, is the premiere of Maltby and Shire’s Take Flight – a show that the Menier’s David Babani first oversaw the workshop of at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2004, which is where I saw it, too, on my first trip Down Under So Take Flight took its own first airborne steps at Adelaide, and now may well being launched on an international journey here.
Finally, and jetting also to a new way of doing things in the West End appropriately enough is Boeing-Boeing, that I noticed yesterday are applying a new budget airline philosophy to selling their tickets: book 4 weeks in advance and tickets are just £10, increasing to £15 at 3 weeks, £20 at 2 weeks, and £25 at 1 week, if you quote “high-flying offer”. With Elena Roger having recently swapped Evita for Boeing-Boeing, surely this should be high-flying adored?