... coming to Hong Kong
Sally Course reports on an exciting proposal to bring spectacular London musicals to town
Hong Kong dances towards a new theatrical era as a top international production company prepares to set up a southeast Asian circuit for smash London musicals, using the territory as a regional base.
Cameron Mackintosh - the company behind the worldwide smash hits, Cats, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera - is in the final stage of preparation for a theatrical circuit stretching from Singapore to Seoul, which would offer top-class musical spectaculars starting from early 1990.
Cats, the musical created by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is being considered for the circuit's first show. The launch is expected to take place in either Hong Kong or Singapore.
Webber's runaway smash based on poems by T.S. Elliot, first opened in London in 1981, and has since played in cities around the world.
A Japanese version of the show has been drawing full houses for four years in Tokyo and other major cities.
Cameron Mackintosh - which boasts offices in London, New York, Paris, Sydney and Toronto - is setting up a Hong Kong office to begin operations in September. Local promoter Mr John Duffus of Pacific Images, will be the general manager.
Financial packaging for the circuit is being worked on and managing director of the Mackintosh group, Mr Martin McCallum, said in Hong Kong a decision would be taken later this year about the launch date.
"We have to decide by the end of November whether it is possible to commit for 1990. If not, we will just delay the decision and keep doing the work".
He estimated it would cost US$2 million (HK$15.6 million) to set up a show for southeast Asia, excluding running costs. The company will be looking for major sponsors to help underwrite the costs.
The circuit, which has been under discussion for the past 12 months, includes Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Taipei, Seoul, Bangkok and Hong Kong. It is eventually hoped to extend it to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The initial run will be conducted in English, though Mr McCallum did not rule out the possibility of shows in other languages with local casts should the idea take off.
Length of runs in the various countries would depend on theatres and seating capacity. In Hong Kong, which is seen as one of the most financially rewarding territories, the company is looking for a two-month run.
A likely venue is the Grand Theatre in the new Tsim Sha Tsui Cultural Centre, which opens next year. The theatre has 1,800 seats and will be fitted with advanced stage equipment and an electrically operated orchestra pit for 110 musicians.
Mr McCallum, who met local arts administrators during his visit here, stressed a musical company would be set up specifically for the southeast Asia circuit.
A typical show might entail 80 people back and front stage and would offer audiences "the opportunity to see productions as seen in London, America or Australia".
The production company spends between one year and 18 months "in order to do shows to the standard necessary, and make sure the right talent is available". Cats would be the original Trevor Nunn production, not a licensed company version.
"The shows that come through and call themselves Broadway productions are often greatly reduced.
"No-one has said: "Wait, we can do more than this. We are prepared to put in the time to create something. We must be able to make it work here".
Australia would provide the resources to mount productions. In order to stage Cats in southeast Asia, the Australian production of the show would have to close.
Many of the cast would then be signed up for the new circuit along with a sprinkling of actors from Cats productions worldwide. One or two Asian actors might also be included.
The initial tour is expected to last between 20 and 30 weeks. Musicals to follow Cats would depend on the availability of productions and audience reaction to the opening run.
"The first tour is a seed-sowing exercise", said Mr Duffus. "But Mackintosh would not put such time and effort into just one tour. Something (else) will come".
Two tours of the southeast Asia region have already been undertaken to conduct feasibility studies and to select theatres which allow the Mackintosh musicals to be staged up to their usual high standards. In Melbourne the company spent nine weeks converting a theatre to the Cats setting.
"It is not like a pop concert, where you can sit at the back of a 10,000-seat stadium with closed circuit video screen and still have a good time", said Mr McCallum. "You have to be in communication with the actors in order to be transported by their story".
He didn't think language would be a barrier for audiences in Hong Kong, or around the region.
Sally Course, Source unknown, circa late 1980's