Last month, 1,601 people were left disappointed by the news that Hamilton, the American musical sensation that has taken over $1 billion at the box office, would be opening two weeks late in London. Of those, 1,600 were preview ticket holders, some of whom had booked flights, hotels and/or spent over £2,800 per ticket on the secondary market. The other was me.
At one fell swoop our advertising strapline – “The second-best historical musical in the West End” – became less pertinent. Thanks to Hamilton’s delay, The End Of History, which I have co-authored and produced, will now be the only historical musical showing in the West End in November.
Piggy-backing off Hamilton is, of course, pretty shameless. The show, which counts Barack Obama among its many fans, has won 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy, and a Pulitzer Prize. My only award was the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Prize, 10 years ago.
Nor can we boast much celebrity endorsement. Our first musical, Blair On Broadway, resorted to featuring Lembit Opik, the cheeky boy, as a charity cameo. The show was cruelly shunned by its eponymous hero, even when we offered him the chance to play himself (perhaps the profit share wasn’t big enough for him).
But as impresarios of all levels know, you don’t get very far without a healthy dollop of chutzpah. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton’s creator, got the idea for his show back in 2009 after a bravura rap performance at a White House spoken word event.
In any case, the Hamilton comparison isn’t entirely invidious. We, too, mix rap with Sondheim, pop with traditional show tunes, historical ironies with contemporary concerns. In our story, it’s a group of teenagers attempting to come to grips with puberty – and the events of the 20th century. From the Treaty of Versailles to the fall of the Berlin Wall, via Munich and mocks, Containment and crushes, is their future any more certain than the past? And might the “end” of history be the beginning of something else?
Just as Hamilton has brought to life everything from the Battle of Yorktown to 18-century dueling etiquette we, too, hope to entertain anyone who has ever battled with 20th-century history. Can’t remember why the USA showed little interest in the Munich Crisis? Turn to our big 1930s’ swing number: “Our army now is tiny / We’ve got neutrality laws / So please don’t think you’ll find me / Fighting Europe’s same old wars”.
What was China up to in the 1950s? Singing and dancing a rock ‘n’ roll number, of course: “I’m backing the USSR / Fighting side by side in Korea.”
And what exactly did the crowds chant in the streets of Berlin in 1989? Why, just like David Hasselhoff, they loved a bit of 1980s’ rock: “People power / mounting by the hour / Reagan / Walesa and the Pope / The big, the small / Those crossing the wall / They never gave up hope.”
While we’re not competing on a level playing field with Hamilton – their delay was caused by the multi-million-pound refurbishment of a theatre renovated especially for them – their woes do, at least, illustrate a certain democracy of the stage. However many zeroes in your budget, however toe-tapping your tunes, however lyrical your rhymes, you’re still at the mercy of audiences, reviewers and Acts of God – in Hamilton’s case, a 200-year-old sewer.
The challenges facing smaller productions tend to be more mundane, but no less stressful. Can we find somewhere to rehearse which has windows? Can we get away with buying all the costumes at Primark – and returning them afterward? Are there enough people in London who, unlike the presenters of Front Row, are prepared to find a babysitter and buy a “stressful” theatre ticket?
And, perhaps most importantly, how do we find those 1,600 disappointed aficionados of historical musicals and persuade them to come and see our show instead?
Perhaps another social media strapline is the answer: “The only historical musical opening on time.” Or is that tempting fate? Let’s go with the more accurate: “The only historical musical in the West End that’s still not sold out.”
The End of History runs from November 14 to December 2 at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden, London (020 3841 6611)
This post originally appeared in iNews on October 25, 2017, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.