Musicals across the decades at Chichester Festival Theatre
This summer’s sparkling Gershwin musical comedy Crazy for You, part of the theatre’s 60th Anniversary programme, is the latest summer musical to garner a raft of 5-star reviews and rapturous acclaim from audiences at Chichester Festival Theatre. Spectacular musicals are now synonymous with Chichester in many people’s minds, so it may be startling to learn that not a single full-length musical was staged in the first 10 years of the Theatre’s existence, until The Beggar’s Opera in 1972. The following year saw the premiere of a musical version of Peter Ustinov’s R Loves J; its cool reception was possibly the reason that Chichester didn’t stray into major musical territory again until 1981, which brought two more premieres: The Mitford Girls, written by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin with music by Peter Greenwell, and the Crazy Gang hit Underneath the Arches.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, musicals were intermittent rather than regular, though ranging from Irving Berlin and Cole Porter to Sondheim and Kander & Ebb. But from the mid-2000s, the musical established itself as the centrepiece of CFT’s summer. To date, 57 musicals have been staged at Chichester during the Festival seasons (only one, Oklahoma!, more than once); neatly, this 60th anniversary season – with Crazy for You, Local Hero and The Famous Five – will bring the total to 60.
Add the highly accomplished Youth Theatre shows, which in recent years have included full scale musical productions of The Wizard of Oz and Pinocchio, and that number grows again.
It’s not hard to understand why: musicals tend to appeal to all generations. Contrary to widespread belief that young people only want edgy fare, more Prologue £5 tickets for ages 16-30 are sold for the musicals than anything else. But ‘musical’ is as all-embracing a term as ‘play’; they differ vastly in style and content. Definitive star performances and exhilarating ensembles; world premieres, beloved classics and collector’s items; tackling serious themes or offering sparkling escapism – Chichester Festival Theatre’s musicals are a joyous reflection of the diversity of musical theatre itself.