LONDON — Midway through this year’s Tony ceremonies, one question took root: How might this year’s crop of Tony-laureled musicals fare in London?
With the large-scale tuner “The Lord of the Rings,” once targeted for London, bowing in Toronto instead, the West End landscape looms strangely bereft of such shows.
The eight-month sequence that began last September with “The Woman in White” and continued through “The Producers,” “Mary Poppins,” “Billy Elliot — The Musical” and “Guys and Dolls” seems suddenly to have come to a stop.
Though “Monty Python’s Spamalot” seems the most obviously transferable of the bunch — what could be more British than Monty Python? — “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” may be an apt London bet in a culture that has always found cynicism and sleaze something worth singing about. (“Jerry Springer — The Opera” didn’t begin in Blighty for nothing.)
The problem with “Spamalot” could be a perceptual one in the city that some years ago rejected “The Who’s Tommy” — another Tony winner with a British source in Pete Townshend’s music.
Several “Spamalot” creators spoke candidly at the post-Tony soiree of the importance of tweaking for British consumption an American-helmed venture more than a little obsessed by Broadway.
One solution: Amplify the Python and play down the in-joke references to the world of theater. For all its theatrical richness, London isn’t as breathlessly focused on navel-gazing. (That’s just one reason the National’s current “Theater of Blood,” about an actor at murderous odds with the town’s theater critics, actually seems a more suitable fit for New York.)
The plan at the moment is to get “Spamalot’s” U.S. tour up and running before going to Britain sometime in 2006. (The Adelphi is among venues being considered.)
Producer Marty Bell is pegging a West End bow for “Scoundrels” for spring 2007. In the interim, director Jack O’Brien has to do his “Hairspray” film (and, for that matter, tend to that play’s slow-aborning West End version).
But Bell already is making notes of British stars who could step into Norbert Leo Butz’s “Scoundrels” shoes, while those English names on the list to replace John Lithgow in New York obviously could be called upon for London, too.
The fact is, everything that’s down and dirty about “Scoundrels” — and that drew sneers from New York crix — could work on its British behalf.
Praising the Broadway production as “elegant, wittily designed and deliciously mischievous” in April, the Independent’s Paul Taylor lauded “Scoundrels” as he dismissed “Spamalot.” (Nor did he like “Doubt,” which runs the risk of suffering the tepid U.K. response afforded another Tony/Pulitzer winner, “Proof.”)
Down and dirty aren’t quite the words one thinks of in relation to “The Light in the Piazza,” which is just the kind of serious musical that would slot in perfectly at the National and pretty much nowhere else in London. (Well, OK, just conceivably the Donmar.)
But the National is said to be keeping an eye on last year’s Broadway arthouse musical “Caroline, or Change,” whose composer, Janine Tesori, scored National a.d. Nicholas Hytner’s Lincoln Center “Twelfth Night” in 1998. Book writer Tony Kushner, too, had his career breakthrough at the National with the Declan Donnellan-helmed “Angels in America.”
The National is in demand by just about everyone everywhere, which makes one wonder what place “Piazza” or any other Broadway entry has in the queue.
What about “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”? The British like games but not necessarily musicals about them, unless anyone’s thinking of devising a tuner based on “The Weakest Link.”
“Spelling Bee’s” generosity and heart — both Broadway pluses — may emerge as a sentimental minus in London, where the Telegraph’s Spencer in May wrote of the show, “Pass the sickbag.”
Besides, producer David Stone has more pressing concerns than a musical that, after all, is only 5 weeks old on Broadway. He and “Wicked” colleague Marc Platt will be in Blighty in July to try to firm plans for that juggernaut to cross the pond.
It could well be a show cold-shouldered at the Tonys that has the best chance in Blighty.
In the karaoke-obsessed town that gave us “Buddy,” “Jailhouse Rock” and, now on its third venue, “The Rat Pack,” not to mention “Mamma Mia!,” can it be long before “All Shook Up” is shimmying its way to London?