Before you accuse us of being offensive, this a question that the man himself would like an answer to. Yes, this is the latest survey to arrive in our inbox. Ten out of ten for brevity, and for offering some incentive to complete it (tickets to Phantom of the Opera, no less). Unfortunately we declined due to lack of information about what would happen to our answers. And given that one of the questions was ‘describe Betty Blue Eyes in one sentence’ we were a little suspicious.
Most of the questions are the usual marketing survey type ones you might expect, but we were asked which of five factors influenced us in going. They are: Cameron Mackintosh, the cast, reviews, the music, and the pig. Funnily enough in our review we found the pig the least successful aspect of the production with the music coming very high up our list. There were some very good cast members, although we were rather annoyed that the three actresses responsible for one of the most touching trios in the show (Magic Fingers) were not even credited properly.
So, is Cameron Mackintosh a big enough name to attract an audience on his own? Strangely enough, Ken Davenport, a Broadway producer, made just that claim on his blog ‘a producer’s perspective’. He recounts that he came to London, wanted to take in a show, and selected Betty Blue Eyes without knowing anything else about it, purely on the strength of the Mackintosh ‘brand’. Annoyingly, he doesn’t say anything about his enjoyment or otherwise of the actual show, but perhaps that is not the point. He is a producer, so we might expect him to look at the producer’s credit first, and he was making a point about branding.
We have some doubts about this approach, not least because a producer is not just indulging their own personal taste, they are looking for a range of shows which they think audiences will like. Of course the producer can function a bit like a ‘quality mark’ that ensures that whatever the production, there will be a minimum standard, but there is a difference between a production which is well executed and one which will appeal to our personal taste. You might like shopping in Marks and Spencers, but you will still be selective about what you buy.
So, is Cameron Mackintosh the Marks and Spencer of theatreland? You only have to watch his tribute show ‘Hey, Mr Producer!’ (which he organised himself) to see what an amazing track record he has. However, he is in serious danger of damaging his reputation as a great West End producer, with his desire to extract the maximum cash from past glory, in particular Les Miserables. No one can deny that Mackintosh helped to build this musical into a global phenomenon, but why did he have to prioritise profit over quality when he put on the 25th Anniversary Show last year and included stars for their ‘name’ rather than their talent? And now according to Harry Zing at Chewing the Scenery, it seems he is doing the same with the Phantom of the Opera anniversary concerts at the Royal Alert Hall, in partnership with his old buddy Andrew Lloyd Webber.
We don’t know what the outcome will be but we suspect that if you find yourself in a popularity contest with an animatronic pig you’ve probably already lost.
We learnt today that Betty Blue Eyes has posted closing notices, as reported in the Evening Standard. Well that explains the survey. If it’s true that the show was playing to half empty houses, it seems a shame that the theatre chose not to reduce ticket prices to get more audiences and potentially more word of mouth. Whether the Standard is justified in declaring the West End to be ‘in shock’ over it is debatable though.