Monday, May 23, 2011

Addams Family musical to premiere in Sydney in 2013 but lack of theatre venues keeps more international productions at bay

SYDNEY has won the bidding war to the Australian premiere of The Addams Family.

The award winning musical comedy is set to open at the Capitol Theatre in March 2013.

Based upon the cartoons created by Charles Addams (made famous by the 1960s television series), it depicts a ghoulish American family with an affinity for all things macabre.

The show has enjoyed a successful run on Broadway since it opened in March 2010, having already grossed over $60 million.

Addams Family
has also been a crowd favourite among theatre circles, winning's 2010 audience award for favourite new musical and a 2010 Tony Award nomination for best new score (Andrew Lippa).

Minister for Major Events, George Souris, believes that considering Sydney is a 'global city' it should have world class musicals.

“As the preferred location to open this world-class musical in Australia, this is a clear vote of confidence by the producers in Sydney as a major events destination,” Mr Souris said in a press release.

Souris' comment hints at a long-standing rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney for the title of Australian musical theatre capital.

Sydney secured the Australian (and world) premiere of Doctor Zhivago this year, but Melbourne is clearly in the lead with Hairspray, Love Never Dies, Fame, and Mary Poppins- all recently premiering in Melbourne before touring to Sydney.

Events NSW estimates that popular musicals can generate around $3 million per month in revenue for the State or almost $20 million in direct economic impact over a 6 month run.

Yet it is surprising that NSW continually fails to win premieres that are known to generate the most buzz and revenue due to both inter-state and international travel for the first few months of the show.

Producer John Frost will be the first to tell you why- Sydney doesn't have enough theatres.

The Capitol and Lyric theatres are the only venues big enough to house large-scale productions, and the Theatre Royal (with 1200 seats to the Capitol's 2000) is often deemed too small.

Add the refurbishments due to begin on the Opera House shortly and you have the opera and ballet companies who also need new homes.

The result is that theatres are booked up with musical productions years in advance, with only a very limited number able to be shown per year (if companies are to be able to recoup their costs by having longer runs).

In an excellent article detailing this theatre shortage, Elissa Blake quotes Frost as insisting Sydney urgently needs another 1600-seat theatre- and not one "that sticks out like a pimple with nothing around it. It will need to be surrounded by apartments, hotels, restaurants and bars. The public has a ferocious appetite for big musicals and they need to be fed.

"But the government will fart around forever ... you and I will be retired before they approve a new building. The bureaucracy will drive you nuts," he said.

Sydney is set to host the premiere of Legally Blonde in June 2012, which is a positive step for the city. However, I think the greater problem amidst talk over 'winning' new shows is the underlying issue of lack of venues that severely blocks the flow of wonderful international and (arguably more importantly) local works. (The lack of venues and funding for the development of Australian musicals is a story for another time.)

While it is important to celebrate another international musical coming to Australia, especially so soon after its Broadway debut, I think at the same time it is also important to remind the State government of ways it could be championing over the Melbourne theatre market if it only invested in theatre venues.

It really is a case of a lack of State infrastructure blocking supply more than it is an issue of a lack of demand on Sydney audience's part. Consistently sold out houses at Wicked, Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins and Doctor Zhivago have proven that.

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