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In musical theatre, it’s Twitter that creates the hits – not critics
The Guardian/Theatre blog with Lyn Gardner – By PHIL WILLMOTT
There was a certain amount of unseemly glee from the media following the news of early closures for new musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Both Stephen Ward and From Here to Eternity would probably have succeeded in the past, when people got to know an upcoming musical via a cast album. But times are changing, and if these giants can’t have a hit, what chance for the rest of us without celebrities or millions in backing? It’s a problem my colleagues and I have been wrestling with over the past few months.
On a cold evening back in January, I opened my new musical, Lost Boy, at the Finborough to a tough crowd of professional newspaper critics (obliged to turn out because there was little else opening that week) and 20 or so unpaid bloggers and website critics who were eager for tickets.
Lost Boy has no pop stars or a movie tie-in, but has an original book and score. It’s spiky, idiosyncratic, doesn’t aspire to be Sondheim, and it aims to engage a wide audience with the story of how the characters from Peter Pan lose their innocence as young adults in the first world war.
Perhaps predictably, many of the professional critics were unreceptive. (It does sometimes feel as if they relish bashing new musicals.) Time Out opened their review with: “If sitting through a low-budget musical sequel to JM Barrie‘s Peter Pan sounds less appealing than being devoured by a man-eating crocodile then, er, you’ll probably find plenty to dislike about Lost Boy.”
Of course, I was disappointed. But Steven M Levy and Sean Sweeney, the producers at the Charing Cross Theatre, where the show was due to transfer, pointed out that the enthusiasm from bloggers and audiences via social media for the show matched their own. They told me to have faith, and honoured their commitment to transfer the show to their venue, convinced that word of mouth, and positive feedback and Twitter and Facebook, would prevail at the box office.
I was sceptical. I started my career in the days when a thumbs-down from Time Out meant empty houses and the misery of trying to keep up cast morale. But the run at the tiny Finborough sold out pretty much immediately, despite the mixed reviews. Audiences seemed to love it. Could we do the same in the outer regions of the West End where we’d have a lot more seats to sell? In fact, it sold so well that we’ve re-opened it again for another four-week season.
So how come a show with no press support and a tiny marketing budget (we’ve had some tube posters) found an audience? The answer seems to be social media. On our first night at the Charing Cross theatre, we invited everyone we could think of with a large Twitter following and, as we’d hoped, it got the Twittersphere buzzing.
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Link to Broadway Grosses for the week ending March 9, 2014: Continue reading