Rock musicals can be big business. Hair has done it. Godspell is doing it. And now, in this new season in New York, there will be Jesus Christ Superstar and Two Gentlemen of Verona trying to do it.
The Hair business, of course, is the one they are all after. It’s the phenomenon of the theatre, not only rock theatre. Since it’s opening in April 1967 (sic. Editors note: Hair opened in April 1968, not April 1967), the musical by Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot has grossed an estimated $100 million and the domestic sales of the original cast album on RCA Records is reported to be near the 3 million mark.
At one point in Hair’s history there were ten companies performing the musical around the country at the same time. And at one point during the various companies’ productions in the U.S. and abroad, the show was taking in almost $1 million every ten days.
The world market too has taken to Hair. There have been productions in England, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Japan, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, Israel, Brazil, Yugoslavia, , Norway, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland. Productions in Mexico and Japan were busted, but negotiations are on again to bring Hair back to those countries. Negotiations are also underway for Hair to be performed in Puerto Rico, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru this year.
The overseas disc market has also latched on Hair. Original cast albums of overseas productions have come from England, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Japan, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, and Israel.
In addition there have been at least 25 spinoff LP’s in the US pegged on the score, several chart making songs have emerged. Among them are Aquarius, Let The Sunshine In, Good Morning Starshine, Easy To Be Hard, I Got Life/Ain’t Got No, and Where Do I Go. Sheet music sales have been continually strong in all areas such as marching bands, duets, chorales and straight piano copies, in addition to vocal and orchestra arrangements.
The show has served as an incubator for a flock of performers. Stepping on their own since their debuts in Hair productions have been Melba Moore, Jill O’Hara, Hiram Keller, Murray Head, Ronnie Dyson, Jennifer, Bert Sommers, and Lynn Kellogg.
Hair is a tough act to follow and a flock of rock musicals have fallen by the Broadway wayside trying to emulate its style and success. Godspell, though, looks like it has a chance to make the grade. The Steven Schwartz musical, which opened in the spring of this year, already has plans for national companies in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, London,, San Francisco, Washington and Toronto. The original cast album, which is on Bell Records, broke into the charts fast and is continuing to show sales potency.
The two big rock musicals due this season are Jesus Christ Superstar and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Jesus Christ Superstar is the most unusual of the of the rock lot since its inspiration comes from a record album, the multi-million selling version on the Decca label. The original cast album of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice score is a two-album set. However, Decca is planning a single LP version of the original Broadway cast album.
The Robert Stigwood Organization, which is producing the Broadway show in association with MCA, is also parlaying the musical with special concert versions. The touring versions of the rock opera grossed over $1 million in its initial four weeks on the road, and Stigwood anticipates that the Jesus Christ Superstar touring companies have a potential gross of $20 million. The Broadway production, which premiered Oct. 12, came in with an advance of over 41 million.
Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Galt MacDermot-John Guare-Mel Shapiro musical, opened to such raves notices during the summer when it played the Mobile Theater Circuit in new York that its success as a regular Broadway presentation when it premieres Dec. 1 is virtually assured.
In fact ABC/Dunhill is so sure of its Broadway potential that it came up with a heavy royalty deal to secure the original cast albums rights.
Many producers now feel that rock is the answer to Broadway’s musical problems. In the instances of Hair and Godspell, young people have been brought back to the theater and the older generation has been getting with it, too. It’s meant big ticket sales, big album sales and given rock music a new stature.
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