Forget Broadway, here's Gran Vía

Musicals are now a Madrid hallmark, drawing millions of spectators each year

Over a decade has elapsed since Paloma San Basilio and José Sacristán appeared on stage at Teatro Calderón as the stars of the musical Man from La Mancha. That premiere, on December 20, 1997, was a watershed moment for the Madrid musical scene. These days, it is no longer necessary to go all the way to Broadway to see Les Misérables, Jesus Christ Superstar or The Lion King. With nearly 20 productions simultaneously on offer, Madrid has become the musical capital of Spain.

"After the success of Man from La Mancha, we realized this city had potential, and despite the risks involved in producing a musical [which requires an average investment of between three and 3.5 million euros], we went a little further the following year with Beauty and the Beast," says Julia Gómez Cora, director of Stage Entertainment, the promotion company behind The Lion King.

"Ever since then we've been getting all the big shows; we can see almost all the same ones as the rest of the world, and in our language, too. Madrid is now a musical capital, which was unthinkable 10 years ago."

Musical theater, or the art of telling stories through song, goes back to the Greek tragedies. According to historical research, the following steps in the evolution of the musical were the light operas and the operettas. The first proper Broadway musical (which ran for 50 evenings) was The Elves in 1857.

Then something unexpected happened: musicals became a huge tourist attraction. To take an obvious example, the famous "I love NY" slogan where the verb is replaced with a red heart, and which is found on an infinity of t-shirts, keychains and other objects, comes from the musical of the same name from the 1970s.

But Madrid is not lagging behind when it comes to taking advantage of the economic possibilities of the musical scene. According to Stage Entertainment, musical-based tourism brings the city between 200 and 250 million euros a year thanks to the three million visitors who arrive in the capital for that reason, and who make up half of the audience.

High-speed rail links have been crucial in boosting audience numbers, says José María Cámara, president of Drive Entertainment, which has produced Más de 100 mentiras, The Sound of Music, Hoy no me puedo levantar and Los 40 el musical. "Domestic tourism is vital. On the weekends, 50 percent of the audience is from out of town, and on weekdays, no less than 25 percent," he explains.

According to Stage's Gómez Cora, around 30 percent of spectators come to see a musical to mark a special moment in their lives. "For most of them this is quite an event, they come for something special like birthdays, anniversaries, declarations of love and so on, so that's why we cannot let them down," she says.

A curious fact is that there is an inordinately large amount of tourists from the Canary Islands. "That's the reason why we premiered The Sound of Music in Tenerife," says Cámara, adding that the production will come to Madrid next September.

But for all this success, Cámara complains of a lack of support from Madrid's authorities. "How can it be that Gran Vía is still full of pickpockets and lacking properly regulated traffic? We should take a lesson from New York and how they take care of 42nd Street."

Another issue not to be overlooked is the fact that many spectators get their first taste of theater through musicals. "According to surveys, most spectators had never set foot inside a theater in their lives; these types of shows bring together all art forms (dance, theater, music, large-scale productions) and attract a variety of spectators. The musical genre has helped to make theaters popular again," says Gómez Cora.

Upcoming productions include Pretty woman my love, The Sound of Music and Follies (with score and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and libretto by James Goldman), which Spanish director Mario Gas will adapt for Teatro Español in January.

But critic Marcos Ordóñez points to a flaw in this happy scenario. "It's true we may be witnessing a boom in musicals; they are serious productions that have improved in recent times. But I could do without all the franchise musicals that have already triumphed abroad, and the jukebox musicals based on an artist's success [Mamma mia, Queen, Hoy no me puedo levantar, Más de 100 mentiras]," he says.

"To my more traditional mind, a real musical is organic - it comes from a libretto and it creates specific songs for that libretto."

Some of the stars from various musicals currently playing in Madrid pose on Gran Vía.
Some of the stars from various musicals currently playing in Madrid pose on Gran Vía.BERNARDO PÉREZ

A sing-along city

- Hair! Hippies in 1960s New York protest the Vietnam War. Lucía Jiménez plays the lead against a famous score that includes the songs Age of Aquarius and Let the Sun Shine. Until January 29 at Teatro Artexia Coliseum (Gran Vía, 78). Tickets between 20 and 80 euros.

- The Lion King. After 17 years on Broadway, the lions of the African savannah try to replicate the same success in Madrid. Teatro Lope de Vega (Gran Vía, 57). Tickets between 19.90 and 130 euros.

- The Hole. The theater turns into a club for the cabaret show Yllana, Let's Go and Paco León. Teatro Häagen-Dazs Calderón (Atocha, 18). Tickets between 20 and 125 euros.

- Chicago. Manuel Bandera is a lawyer who knows how to manipulate the press to get his clients out of jail. Teatro Nuevo Alcalá (Jorge Juan, 62). Tickets between 19.90 and 64.90 euros.

- Goodbye Dolly! A humorous cabaret show about a diva who says goodbye to the stage after 40 years of failures. Teatro Nuevo Alcalá, Sala II (Jorge Juan, 62); 22 euros.

- Shrek. Málaga's Theatre Properties celebrates its 10th anniversary by bringing the irreverent screen ogre up on a theater stage. Until January 8 at Teatro Nuevo Apolo (Tirso de Molina, 1). Tickets between 25 and 70 euros.

- Forever crazy. Straight from Paris, 10 dancers bring the chic cabaret show by the French company Le Crazy Horse. Until January 8 at Teatros del Canal (Cea Bermúdez, 1). Tickets between 18 and 75 euros.

- Lazy town-Roboticus. Sportacus and Roboticus face off in the stage adaptation of the children's television series. Until January 8 at Teatro Häagen-Dazs Calderón (Atocha, 18). Tickets between 18 and 33 euros.

- El loco sueño de una noche de verano (A Midsummer Night's Dream). A musical version of Shakespeare's famous play that's fit for the whole family. Until December 30 at Teatro Arenal (Mayor, 6); 12 euros.

- Caperucita Roja (Little Red Riding Hood). The theater company La Ratonera adapts this classic of children's literature. Until January 29 at Teatro Príncipe Gran Vía (Tres Cruces, 8); 14 euros.

- The Wizard of Oz. A simple stage set is used to celebrate the 70th anniversary of this classic of the silver screen. With new songs and fast dialogues. Until January 6 at Teatro Príncipe Gran Vía (Tres Cruces, 8).

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