Across the Pond: London vs New York

I’ll keep the formal introduction brief… Hello. My name is Jamie. You can read more about me here.

This post is the first in a series which I’m writing for the Green Room blog over the coming months entitled ‘Across the Pond,’ which aims to discuss the landscape of contemporary musical theatre in the UK.

I’ll start in the same way which I begin the majority of posts on my own personal blog, with a disclaimer. I don’t pretend to be an expert, this is all simply my own personal musings. Please don’t take anything I say as gospel, and to my American readers – please don’t be too offended at my inevitable UK vs US banter, it’s all meant with the greatest of affection. I’m British, it’s what we do.

So rather than writing a very standard, very boring introduction about what I plan for this series to contain, I thought I’d just get stuck straight in and address the burning question which I feel will inform everything else I write:

‘Is musical theatre different across the pond?’

The short answer is simply ‘yes’. The long answer is ‘yes, very different in some ways but very similar in others.’ And the even longer answer is about to take eight posts and an entire summer for me to cover. So let me present to you my most basic principle on this subject.

I see the contemporary mainstream musical as a collaboration between our cultures.

Much like composer and book-writer, I’d like to think that the modern musical is a product of a great understanding that exists between the US and the UK; a ‘special relationship’ if you will.

Cambridge Theatre, home of Matilda. (Photo: Dan Wooler)

Cambridge Theatre, home of Matilda. (Photo: Dan Wooler)

I know some Americans who will say with gusto that we are working with an entirely American art form and that musical theatre belongs exclusively to New York. Likewise I know a lot of Brits who say that they hate musicals because the whole concept seems to defy ‘Britishness.’ Aside from neither of these perspectives being strictly true, they also seem to overlook that current trends in the industry don’t necessarily reflect the past hundred years of history and development.

Although America can be said to have conceived the idea of the modern musical, I’m interested in exploring what exactly the UK brought and continues to bring to the table, and how the future might look.

Theatro Technis, a fringe theatre in London.

Theatro Technis, a fringe theatre in London.

Anyone who has worked on a musical will know that collaboration is probably the most central principle. Every individual aspect of a production requires input from virtually every other individual aspect to be able to function as the complete machine. I think that this is a pretty accurate microcosm of how the industry and genre have developed and refined to create the musical theatre which we see on stages across the world today. Like the partnership of composer and lyricist, the series hopefully should highlight that musical theatre has always been, and remains to be, a huge cultural collaboration between the UK and the US, not a one-way street.

And besides, who wants to let the Americans take all the glory?

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