By Issy Flower
The revelation that Andrew Lloyd Webber was going to start streaming some of his old musicals on YouTube, through the channel ‘The Shows Must Go On’, was met with the typical response: tax evading jokes, whines of despair, cries of joy. However, what the opportunity represents is two things: theatre’s commitment to staying alive during the shutdown, and the paucity of resources available to do this.
It is brilliant that Lloyd Webber with his sheer amount of shows and recourses should be setting up a channel like this—especially with his commitment to putting up clips of performances from wider shows and behind-the-scenes clips. This should hopefully make available archive performances and secrets previously not available to the wider public, helping people explore theatre history and even, to some extent, work on their craft. Similarly, Lloyd Webber has even suggested he might put up the only very mildly successful By Jeeves, which has been distinctly underappreciated since its 1975 premiere and 1996 revival. This could be an amazing tactic to be explored by multiple theatres and writers online—not just uploading your most famous works but also the ones which were never particularly popular, but you yourself are fond of. Personally, I’d much rather watch a production of By Jeeves than yet another Jesus Christ Superstar, for its novelty value if nothing else. And what else do we need in corona-times than novelty?
This is, I think, where this channel falls down. The current shows planned for the channel- the 1999 Joseph film, the 2012 JCS arena tour- are those which have been commercially available on terrestrial television and DVD for years and years. Similarly, particularly in the case of JCS, these are slightly odd choices. Why not show the most recent open-air production, which fewer people will have seen and received strong reviews, or one of the other two (two!) films based on productions. You could do a months’ worth of JCS, and whilst the 2012 may be the most theatrical of the adaptation, there’s no reason why another wouldn’t do just as well. Therefore, most of the people who are interested in Lloyd Webber are likely to have already watched these, and for those who haven’t, it is often the case that films fail to fully recreate the theatrical experience.
This highlights, yet again, the lack of professionally filmed productions of plays, especially musicals. Whilst theatres might think that professional filming will damage their ticket sales, the success of National Theatre Live demonstrates that people will still go and see shows regardless of whether they’ve been filmed or not, and it opens theatre to up for those who don’t live close to London or New York. Especially now, when theatres cannot open at all, you hope that some theatres will begin to re-evaluate their strategies, and make sure that a record of all shows is produced, even if, in the case of By Jeeves, it won’t be broadcast for 24 years afterwards.
Overall, ‘The Shows Must Go On’ is a wonderful idea, offering a tonic to the purely theatre focused National Theatre Live and offering valuable resources for exploring musical theatre’s past. Now, we must make sure that more unusual and in-theatre productions are also filmed and broadcast, so that the elitism of musical theatre drops away entirely.
Image: phantomloveneverdies on Flickr