By Sophie Boyce, 23 - musical theatre fan and founder of Spirit YPC: a London-based company of 150 west-end-professional-turned-YouTuber-kids, who are known for filming their musical theatre covers and clocking up over 10 million views on YouTube (www.spiritypc.co.uk)
You'd need to be living under a rock not to notice that musical theatre is having a major moment right now. And its growing popularity is as much with kids and teens as with adults. But why?
1) Pitch Perfect…. (and its parent: Glee)
The first Pitch Perfect, starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson and directed by the brilliant Elizabeth Banks, was a sleeper-hit, with the DVD gaining a huge cult following. But the sequel was a bona fide instant-mega-hit and is the highest grossing music comedy of all time. With college a cappella groups competing to win nationals, this concept followed hard on the high-heels of Glee. But Pitch Perfect had its own concept: the Cup Song, which actually became a ‘thing’ and had YouTubers frantically reaching for their plastic tumblers. Mixing pop with musical theatre and creating their own spin on well-known tunes, both Glee and PP had scratched an itch with music-lovers from 8 to 80 and reflect the insatiable appetite out there for a cappella, and for musical theatre-styley numbers and staging. Moreover, Pitch Perfect allows the formerly-known-as-uncool genre to be indulged by all, shamelessly!
2) TV talent shows
Never have there been so many versions of singing competitions on our screens. Young adults today have grown up with them: the first series of Pop Idol was back in 2001 and X Factor followed just a few years later. But nowadays, the young talent that does well on shows like The X-Factor and The Voice are just as likely to go on to star in a musical theatre production as get a commercial record contract – and as a result they are bringing new their young fans with them to the theatre.
We first saw Matt Henry on series 2 of The Voice, and he has now just won an Oliver, no less, for his role as Lola in Kinky Boots. He’s following in the footsteps of many: Alexandra Burke (X Factor) in The Bodyguard, Jordan Lee Davies (The Voice) in Les Mis, Amelia Lily (X-Factor) in American Idiot, Lucie Jones (X-Factor) in Les Mis and now Legally Blonde, Matt Cardle (X Factor) in Memphis, Leanne Jarvis (The Voice) in Godspell, Shayne Ward (X Factor) in Rock of Ages, Will Young (Pop Idol) in Cabaret… the list goes on and on.
And, have we spied a brand new trend beginning? With Ferne McCann popping up in Gatsby at the Union theatre in London, we’ve even got a TOWIE star who’s now ventured into the world of MT. SHUT UP!
3) Juke Box musicals
‘Juke Box musicals’ are the new show phenomenon and are also introducing a new audience to musical theatre. Mama Mia, We Will Rock you, Jersey Boys, Beautiful… the stage is currently full of stories of bygone pop stars, and their back catalogue of hits. And there are hundreds more potential subjects out there to get the Juke Box treatment. With no need to write a bunch of new songs in order to put on a guaranteed hit musical – what’s not to love for a producer? The line between pop and MT is becoming fuzzy, people.
The film industry has decided that some of these musicals actually have cracking good story lines too (we already knew this). Les Miserables (I know, I know, that was a novel first), Hairspray, The Phantom of the Opera, and Oscar-winning Chicago are now all big hits on the silver screen as well as the stage. And big box-office movies are making musical theatre too, like The Bodyguard, Ghost, Bend it like Beckham. Even Breakfast at Tiffany’s is about to hit the west end, with pop star Pixie Lott in the title role.
5) KIDS STARRING
The little maggots are cleaning up in the west end! Fantastic shows with brilliant scores and leading roles played by children, like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate factory, Bugsy Malone, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Annie, and soon to be School of Rock, are all demonstrating the power of the pint-size star in theatre-land and are creating a ready fan-base of kids waiting to put their little bottoms on the seats!