Why I won’t stop talking about the Orchestra cuts at the Phantom of the Opera

The West End is slowly but surely returning and it’s going to need all the support it can get.

Why then, as an avid supporter of all things theatre have I become such a pessimist of the Phantom of The Opera’s decision to cull half an orchestra and to close the original production?

While I want to do what I can to share the magic of theatre with everyone, to help make theatre accessible and encourage as many people as possible to see productions I don’t feel it would be right to comprimise trust or integrity to do so. It would be easy to quote the Lego movie, believe ‘everything is awesome’

Coming back to the Phantom of the Opera precisely, there’s three areas that I feel uncomfortable about: Transparency, Value for Money and Artistic Integrity over Profit. I’ll give a run down of these areas below and why I feel they’re important in the case of this production.

Transparency

While the rumour mill was going on quite early on in the pandemic, a war of words was had between Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber over press releases and interviews. The saga started when Cameron Mackintosh said the production was closed, this was quickly refuted by Lloyd Webber who promised the ‘Brilliant Original’ would be back. This is in addition to varying statements from the Really Useful Group and indeed the social media channels for the productions that were promising concerned audiences members the same thing. While tickets themselves were not on sale during this conflict, vouchers that could be exchanged for seats were. It is therefore very understandable that audiences have been hostile towards the production after being sold ‘ The Brilliant Original’ yet are not seeing the so called ‘Brilliant Original’. Trust and transparency are so important for any organisation today, even more so now as the industry rebuilds trust with the casual viewer and its disappointing that trust has now been strained with this production thanks to untruthful statements.

Value for Money

Prices for the West End have been climbing continuously, inline with a growing demand for tickets. It therefore is a concern for me that while production costs will undoubtedly drop with half an orchestra and the restoration costs of a 50 year old production, prices have actually increased with the relaunched production. Audiences are therefore paying more and getting less.

Artistic Integrity

Artistic integrity is something that is somewhat always going to be compromised in theatre. These productions need to earn their keep. That being said, the balance between profit and artist excellence works hand in hand. This production arguably has only been as successful as it has been due to its large scale and the largest orchestra in the West End. This selling point is now gone.

Suggesting, as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh have done that artists can be replaced by synthetic music is concerning and indeed seems to be conflicting. On one side, you have Andrew Lloyd Webber recording an album which a huge orchestra, the next he’s suggesting it’s not required. Indeed, his latest production Cinderella has only eight members in the Band. What precedent does this send to producers of musicals in the future and where does it end? Will we be seeing large West end shows in the future having backing tracks just because cuts are ignored?

This decision is a huge concern for me and is something that is terrible for audiences, terrible for talented musicians but equally terrible for talented cast members who don’t have the experience of performing backed up by a huge orchestra. The decisions seemingly benefits noone, but the producers.

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