Sunday, December 4

MUSICALS: A new Musical Theatre magazine hits the streets this month

MUSICALS: A new Musical Theatre mag hits the streets this month, but will it fly, or will it flop? Paul Wilcox from North West End gets a preview and gives us his verdict.

A reassuringly heavy thud on my doormat announces the arrival of ‘Musicals’, a brand new bi-monthly magazine promising coverage of ‘The World of Musical Theatre from the West End to Broadway and beyond.’ I am fascinated to explore whether there is still a gap in the market for a specialist publication in a world of clickbait journalism and instant online content, mostly available free of charge.

Ripping open the envelope and settling down on the sofa with a cuppa, I am presented with a product of undoubtedly high quality. Nearly 100 glossy pages broadly divided into news, reviews, features and interviews, with contributions from respected critics and Arts writers from both sides of the Atlantic. The layout and design feels (to this fifty something) to have taken its inspiration from ‘Smash Hits’, with copious use of production photos and peppy short form articles throughout the opening ‘Curtain Up’ section. It’s a newsie section (pun intended) and although interesting, I think it may suffer in a publication which will only hit the streets every two months, with most of the information available sooner and quicker online.

The launch issue features include an in-depth look at the work of the late Stephen Sondheim as well as articles on taking musicals from stage to screen and how a new musical is developed and produced. Stars of current West End productions (Marisha Wallace, Sam Tutty) are interviewed alongside legends of the stage (Elaine Page), sprinkling star quality and name recognition throughout the pages. However, a lack of any discernible ‘house style’ running throughout made it an inconsistent read, with the tone of each article varying from the serious examination to the chatty froth. This ‘broad church’ approach is understandable in a magazine still trying to identify its audience and I hope it will settle to something more distinctive in the months ahead.

Reviews is the strongest area and one I feel has the most scope for development, it is cleanly designed with each review occupying a separate page allowing the reviewers space to offer a comprehensive critique on each show. The excellent format should be further expanded to cover more offerings from both off West End and regional theatres, as well as the national tours and large shows currently covered. Recognition that excellent musical theatre is being developed everywhere from Manchester (Hope Mill and Bolton Octagon) to Mold (Theatr Clwyd) is long overdue and ‘Musicals’ can help redress the imbalance.

A further section previewing forthcoming attractions could also link into the feature interviews better giving each issue a more thematic tone. The inclusion of Broadway shows in a magazine presumably aimed at a British, rather than international, audience is attractive but superfluous. Typical readers are far more likely to be found in York rather than New York and showcasing something they will see is important in developing a core readership.

From a commercial perspective, I see the print version (digital is also available) having a viable future if it can develop partnerships with promotional partners in the theatrical world as well as developing subscription links with amateur theatre organisations and awarding bodies. If it can recruit and retain the right balance of opinion formers in the world of MT, it can quickly find a home as the main marketing organ in the sector, the current market being fragmented and disparate.

Verdict: A promising launch issue which needs to develop a consistency of style in order to secure an audience and ensure longevity.

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 21st October 2022