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Why New Musicals?
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Impossible Dream
How to Write a Musical
Writing Musicals
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Break a Leg
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Admiral's Odyssey, The
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Georgette
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I Have a Date with Spring
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Lao Jiu (2012)
Lost in Transit
Magic Paintbrush
The Magic Paintbrush: the Musical
Makan Place
Making the Grade
Mortal Sins
Mr Beng
Nanyang the musical
Oi! Sleeping Beauty!
Pagoda Street
Phua Chu Kang
Pursuant
Re:Mix
Roses & Hello
Sayang
School House Rockz
Shanghai Blues
Shanty
Sing to the Dawn
Singapura: the musical
Sleepless Town
Snow Queen, The
Snow Wolf Lake
So You Want to be a Nurse
Temptations
24 Hours
Twist of Fate, A
Viva Lah! Singapura
Women on Canvas
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Impossible Dream


 

The Impossible Dream

"This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far"

- Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh, from Man of La Mancha

Musical theater writers, like Don Quixote, are madmen charging at windmills, hopelessly following their quest of getting their show to star on Broadway. But alas, theirs is an impossible dream, poor fools.

Last night I had dinner with a friend who is struggling to have his first musical produced. He had met with directors and producers of musical theater in Broadway, West End, and Australia. From his discussions with this wide spectrum of theater professionals, he came away with a rather depressing picture.

To get a new musical staged in New York, London or Sydney, especially for a rookie like himself, is well nigh impossible. The barriers are virtually insurmountable. The producers and directors, after hearing a presentation of my friend’s musical, all said that they liked his material, and agreed that it could be commercially viable. But none of them were prepared to take the risk.

The cost of mounting a Broadway musical is unnerving. Expenses include rental of rehearsal spaces and theater, costs of constructing sets, rental of lighting and sound equipment, making costumes, salaries of staff, technical personnel, directors and actors, traveling expenses, insurance, marketing costs, and a myriad of other expenses. They all quickly add up to astronomical figures.

According to a 2003 article the total cost of mounting Broadway musical "Urban Cowboy" (from the producers Leonard Soloway and Chase Mishkin) was $4.5 million. The breakdown was:

ITEM

COST (US DOLLARS)

Scenery, costumes

$500,000

Fees and advances for authors, directors and designers

$100,000

Salaries for actors and managers

$200,000

Music preparation

$150,000

Union bonds

$100,000

Rehearsal costs

$200,000

Advertising, publicity

$400,000

Insurance, legal

$150,000

Theater rent and expenses

$55,000*

*Per week; other expenses are totals for the production

The total does not quite total $4.5 million, but the weekly expenses quickly adds up.

Source: 42nd Street the Musical

The chairman of Scorpio Entertainment, Thomas Viertel, said that it cost his partners and himself $10.5 million to underwrite "The Producers", and $10.5 million to put "Hairspray" on Broadway.

Costs are cheaper in London and Sydney, but the sums are still staggering. In order to recoup the expenses, shows need generous sponsors and healthy ticket sales. As expenses increase, so does the cost of a ticket. At the peak, before 9/11, the price of a ticket for The Producers in Broadway rose as high as $450. Even today, the price of a ticket for The Producers is $130 and above.

Who can afford such prices? Those who have made their fortunes. And they tend to be those over 40 years old. Hence the target audience for musical theater is not the teenagers or the 20- or 30-somethings.

Exclusion of this younger audience has serious long-term repercussions. Already some of the baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and as more stop work, their income will dwindle. They will no longer be able to afford Broadway or West End shows. Stephen Sondheim, who is now 75 years old, quipped that he recently attended a matinee show on Broadway, and was probably the youngest person there.

Unless it can engage the younger generation, musical theater will end, not with a bang, but a whimper. Hence the urgency of making musical theater attractive and affordable for the younger audience.

Until this problem is solved, creators of musicals, scorned and covered with scars, left with only the last ounce of courage, bearing an unbearable sorrow, will continue to fight an unbeatable foe, and dream an impossible dream.

The writer Rob Watkins said "Among the guaranteed ways of becoming a millionaire, two stand out: winning a lottery, or writing a successful musical." My friend chose the easier option, namely, to write a hit musical.

As he left for the airport, we bade each other farewell. No doubt he will continue dreaming impossible dreams. Sigh!

4 January 2006