If you are anything like most Australian Theatre People you just can’t get enough theatre action. So where is the best place to holiday in order to soak up the most theatrical culture possible?
New York’s Broadway and London’s West End are without a doubt the theatre capitals of the western world. Many will argue the pro’s and cons of each and although they may sometimes share the very same blockbuster productions, they have distinctly different audiences with diversely different tastes. We know this because not every show that succeeds in Broadway will make it on the West End and vice versa. So the type of theatre you enjoy might dictate which theatre Mecca will be your personal favourite.
There are many examples of shows that were major hits on Broadway that have failed miserably on the West End.
In 2003 the Tony Award Broadway hit Spring Awakening opened at the Lyric Hammersmith to rave reviews and 4 Olivier Awards, only to close five months early after moving to the Novello.
The original Broadway production of Thoroughly Modern Millie won 6 Tony Awards and 5 Drama Desk Awards before opening to bad reviews and completely crashing on the West End.
Transfer of production from the West End to Broadway has induced an occasional flop too, although these do seem to be less frequent. One of the more notables failure occurred in 1975 when the Rocky Horror Picture Show opened on Broadway and closed after just 45 performances. The 2000 production of the same show failed too – strange when they were both smash hits on the West End.
Ticket prices might taint your preference too. The prices between Broadway and West End tickets vary dramatically. Both have excellent last minute rushes, standing room and ticket lotteries but West End tickets are considerably cheaper than those on Broadway.
In 2013 the average ticket price to a West End show was $66.50 (USD) compared to a whopping $103 on Broadway. The top ticket prices vary considerably too, with $259 as the top West End price compared to Broadway’s $447 for the same class seat for the same blockbuster production. It’s not really surprising that during 2013 theatre attendance was on the rise in London whilst the New York numbers remained stagnant.
There is one small saving on Broadway, you will get a free program (Playbill). In London you could pay anything from £3 to £10 for a souvenir program, but on the upside it will contain more information and photos on the production than the Playbill.
The theatres are vastly different too. The West End is much older than Broadway and as a consequence generally has beautiful theatres with significant historical value and more ornate decorations. On the other side of the Atlantic the newer theatres on Broadway generally have better facilities including more toilets, more leg room and better disabled access.
If walking is not your thing you might prefer New York. Broadway is more condensed with the theatres located in a much smaller area and the discount ticket booth very conveniently centrally located in Times Square. Broadway also has one of my favourite retro places; at Ellen’s Stardust Diner you can see wannabe Broadway stars strut their stuff while they serve your burger.
The audiences are really diverse too. From my experience the London audiences are a little more discerning and will very rarely give a standing ovation. Nearly all of the shows I have seen on Broadway received a standing ovation and some most certainly didn’t deserve such an enthusiastic response. New Yorkers will apparently applaud at the opening of a packet of chips!
But how does Australia compare? Unfortunately some major touring companies regurgitate the same old reliable productions over and over – I’d be quite happy to die without ever seeing Phantom of the Opera or South Pacific again! Very few producers seem unwilling or unable to take a risk on such an expensive market – they know what will sell, so we get a very limited choice of broadly appealing shows.
It’s possible a new theatre Mecca is evolving here in Australia in our very own brand new East End. It is fantastic and exciting to see some recent big musicals opening first in Australia including King Kong and Love Never Dies. Let’s hope this trend continues and brings us more enticing new productions to explore.
For me, for now, the clear winner is the West End. I love the civilized atmosphere, the excellent cheap seats and the beautiful architecture. The quality of theatre is certainly comparable, but somehow the West End draws me in time and time again as the original, historical, pulsing centre of the theatrical universe.
Which do you prefer? How do you think your hometown theatre stacks up against the big guns?