One of the oldest laments of the audience member in our city is “When will Mumbai become like Broadway?”
It looks 2018 might actually get closer to that dream. At the time of writing there are almost half a dozen “massive” stage shows being scheduled for the next few months. While remarkable, this shouldn’t actually be that surprising, since the ground work was laid in the last two years with the enormous success of Beauty and the Beast and Mughal-e-Azam.
These two shows seem to have forever changed the scale of what audiences in the country are used to watching, and also, importantly, willing to spend on. 2017 was good. Three Penny Opera received strong reviews and after its end-of-year opening looks likely to have an extended run in the New Year. Balle Balle, which is more opulent than artistic, has made the bold stand to sit in a single theatre for almost six months for six shows a week. Needless to say, audiences numbers haven’t been full, but the fact that such a large-scale show is willing to contribute to making theatre a weekday outing for a consumer is a laudable. And Gandhi The Musical had three strong seasons.
However, 2018 sees even more musicals premiering. There is talk of some movies being converted to stage — an oft used formula on Broadway. There is the revival of old favourites like The Sound of Music, Disney’s back with Aladdin, and there’s even a commercial brand new home-grown musical Sing India Sing. Then there is talk of more international touring musicals, and maybe even some Indian TV shows being converted for stage.
But why has this perfect storm occurred now? To begin with it’s to do with the singers on offer. Recent talent shows have opened a virtual Pandora’s Box of new talent of various ages and singing skills. With such a plethora of skills, producers are much readier to invest in the large scale musical. The second reason would be the fact the Bombay has two brand new proscenium theatres. Most large-scale theatre was limited to St. Andrew’s Auditorium and the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre. The opening of the Royal Opera House in Charni Road, and the Bal Gadharva in Bandra have breathed a new lease of life to the city’s West End (quite literally), and suddenly big shows can do the two things that were keeping producers away: booking enough technical rehearsal time, and scheduling numerous performances.
But perhaps the biggest reason for the upcoming glut of musicals is the loosening of the purse strings from the average ticket buyer. The exorbitant prices Beauty… and Moghul... and even Gandhi The Musical, seemed to attract viewers rather than scare them away. So the wheels were set in motion. Of course, these recent plans were hatched before the dreaded GST started playing havoc with audience numbers, but there is sufficient hope that by the time these musicals arrive, audience members will be back to their spending ways.
All told it looks like the Halls are going to be alive, with the sound of music.
The writer is a Bombay based theatre-holic. He works primarily as a theatre-director for arts management company QTP, who also manage the youth theatre movement Thespo.