Just as the television schedules are full of new programming at this time of year, with regular favourites like Strictly Come Dancing and Masterchef returning for a new season alongside new drama and comedy, theatre programming follows the same scheduling patterns with new seasons announced across the country’s regional and subsidised venues. Unlike the West End, which benefits from tourist income during the summer months, other theatres find it harder to attract audiences when the hot weather sees local people heading off on holiday or opting for al fresco entertainments. The turn of the season marks the opportunity to open the doors to large audiences once again, and one of the staples of a new season announcement here in Greenwich is the unveiling of a big musical.
This season is no different, so as we start taking bookings for everything from Sense and Sensibility to Captain Flinn & the Pirate Dinosaurs, the heart of the season is taken up by the European premiere of Broadway musical BROOKLYN. A show within a show, this ‘sidewalk fairytale’ sees a band of soulful street singers and storytellers share a tale from their lives – the tale of a young Parisian who comes to America in search of fame and the Father she never knew.
We are far from the only theatre to rely on musicals to draw in the crowds, and setting aside the long running shows in the West End there are a series of exciting musicals heading for London’s smaller theatre’s over the coming months.
Following a critically acclaimed run in New York, The Vaults under Waterloo Station is set to present SHIDA (11 September-13 October), Jeannette Bayardelle’s astonishing and heartbreaking true story of a young African-American girl who aspires to become a writer. Featuring a mix of rock, jazz, R&B, and gospel music, the show traces the ups and downs of her family, friendships and love life.
Over in Highgate, the tiny powerhouse Upstairs At The Gatehouse is set to present Hi Impact’s production of WORKING (10-22 September) by Stephen Schwartz with additional songs from James Taylor, Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) and others. In the show, nominated for six Tony Awards, a series of working people – from school teacher to millworker, waitress to mason – share their daily routines and their hopes and dreams.
Perhaps most intriguing of all, Southwark Playhouse have not one but two new musicals which venture well off the beaten track. PRELUDES (6 September-12 October) is set in the early years of Rachmaninov’s career when, having secured world-wide fame by the age of 21, he plunged into paranoia and anxiety. Set inside the composer’s mind, the show fuses his own compositions with contemporary music to tell a story of a genius carried to breaking point.
Finally, and just announced, one of the hits of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – ISLANDER: A NEW MUSICAL – is also heading for Southwark (2-26 October). Using a Scottish folk-inspired score alongside looping technology, the show tells the story of Eilidh who stares out to sea from her lonely island and dreams of a life beyond its shores, until a mysterious stranger is washed ashore, changing her life forever.
Whilst there is certainly an audience out there who love musicals, there are just as many people who almost proudly proclaim their dislike for the form. However, with such variety on offer I’d appeal for anyone to pick a show that might differ from whatever they’ve seen before and have another go. With Off-West End prices making a trip to see a musical far more affordable than a West End visit, maybe this is the season to be surprised by something new…
James Haddrell is the Artistic & Executive Director of Greenwich Theatre