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A summer theatrical feast on both sides of the Atlantic

 Tuesday, 12th June, 2018

Theatre critic and member, Mark Shenton

The "theatre season", as referred to on Broadway, is an annual cycle that runs from one set of Tony Awards to the next: since these are presented in early June, with a cut-off for eligibility for each year set in late April, this means that theatre in New York is run according to a schedule that always spans April to April. 

They've just had one of their slowest seasons in terms of new openings in a while: just 30 shows were considered eligible for this year's Tony's, as opposed to 40 last year (a 25% reduction). An even thinner slice of shows actually won the awards themselves, which were dominated by 'The Band's Visit' (ten awards, including Best Musical), and two shows imported from London: 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' (six awards, including Best Play, from 10 nominations) and 'Angels in America' (three awards from 11 nominations). There were also wins for 'Three Tall Women' (two awards from 6 nominations for stars Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalfe) and 'Carousel' (two awards from 11 nominations). Blockbuster shows like 'Frozen' and 'Mean Girls' went away empty-handed. But the latter pair are nonetheless more than likely to stick around for a while, as will 'The Band's Visit' and 'Harry Potter' (the latter, which cost some $58.5m to bring to Broadway, requires longevity to recoup that sum: as Tom Viertel, executive director of the Commercial Theater Institute, puts it in context, "That’s a ton of money, no question about it, in terms of what things cost around here, but it’s Harry Potter, one of the most popular brands in the history of brands. It has a title the likes of which we would rarely, if ever, get to see on Broadway”.)

That means that the pressure on real estate -- there are only 41 theatres on Broadway, of which 26 now house long-runners or shows that are likely to become them -- is higher than ever. Producers are having to grab theatres when they become available, which means that this year Broadway finds itself in the unusual position of seeing three big new musicals open during the summer, which is usually a slow time in terms of openings. 'Head over Heel's is a jukebox formulation that uses the hits of the all-female band the Go-Go's, opening at the Hudson on July 26; Gettin' the Band back Together is a new musical, set in New Jersey, where it first tired out in 2013; opening at the Belasco on August 13; and 'Pretty Woman', a new musical stage version of the 1990 film, opening at the Nederlander on August 16. 

In London, we don't really have a season at all -- the weekly churn of openings just doesn't stop. And this summer is no exception. This June has already brought Orlando Bloom back to the West End stage in 'Killer Joe' (at Trafalgar Studios) and Laura Linney in 'My Name is Lucy Barton' (to The Bridge Theatre). Two Broadway musical productions will transfer to London: 'Fun Home', which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015, comes to the Young Vic, opening on June 27; and Lincoln Center's hit revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'The King and I', with Kelli O'Hara reprising her Tony winning performance opposite Ken Watanabe, will play a summer season at the London Palladium, opening on July 3. 

While two part plays like 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' and 'Angels in America' have both been Tony winners, the RSC brings another two-parter Imperium to the West End's Gielgud Theatre, opening on June 30, based on Robert Harris's trilogy. Other dramatic highlights of the summer will include Aidan Turner, swapping Poldark for the West End stage, in a revival of Martin McDonagh's 'The Lieutenant of Inishmore', opening at the Noel Coward on July 4; transfers for the Young Vic hit 'The Jungle' to the Playhouse, opening on July 5 and Chichester's 2017 production of 'King Lear' with Ian McKellen in the title role, opening at the Duke of York's Theatre on July 26; and the world premiere of Alan Bennett's 'Allelujah!', opening at The Bridge Theatre on July 18.