Are big musicals and West End-type productions finally coming back to Hong Kong?
The Covid-19 pandemic nearly killed all live performances in the city, but on December 14, a touring production of Madagascar The Musical opens at the Academy for Performing Arts’ Lyric Theatre. And last week, it was announced a revival of The Sound of Music will run at the Xiqu Centre in West Kowloon, beginning next April.
Producer Matthew Gregory, whose ABA Productions is bringing the musical version of the hit DreamWorks animation back to Hong Kong after a 2019 debut, is cautiously optimistic about revival of live commercial entertainment in the city.
“The way I see it, all the big shows will come back. I’m very confident about that. Will it all be back in 2014? No, I don’t think so. 2025? There will probably be more. But by 2026, I think we’ll see larger productions coming regularly. I’m optimistic but I’m also realistic.”
The reality is that big stage productions are like the Titanic. There are lots of moving parts, so just changing course requires huge logistical resources and effort, not to mention money. The Madagascar cast and crew comes to 30 people. After Hong Kong, it all will “Move It! Move It!” to Singapore.
The challenges for Gregory, who is also founder of Faust International Youth Theatre and Kidsfest Hong Kong, lie in booking these shows and rebuilding the Hong Kong audience base.
“A lot of people left,” he says. “And people used to buy tickets early, like six months before. They don’t do that any more so it’s a lot scarier for us. You never quite know how it’s going to work out.
“I think a lot of people got burned buying tickets then having shows cancelled.
“The other thing we’re up against is trying to book a venue. There’s a bottleneck of availability and we will be working through that now until they finish building all the different theatres over in West Kowloon.”
A game-changer during the pandemic was the collapse of Lunchbox Productions, the company that used to import most of the large-scale commercial shows. Gregory hopes to fill the void and maybe expand the market.
“Without a doubt it’s an opportunity,” he says. “There’s great content out there that’s never been to Hong Kong – shows like Dear Evan Hanson, Come From Away, things like that. So it’d be brilliant to bring some of that to Hong Kong.
“There might be one fewer player now, but there are plenty of other people wanting to get into the market, especially as a springboard to mainland China.
“For ABA, it’s about fostering a new market as well, finding people who want to see drama. We don’t want to get stuck doing musicals or shows for young kids.
“We used to bring the Globe Theatre out here from the UK and we want to do that again. I trained in theatre studies at Warwick and then at Cambridge. I didn’t really do musicals, so I’d like to be able to bring more drama, contemporary and older works to Hong Kong.”
For now, the focus is on giving audiences a holiday good time with the familiar characters and cacophony of Madagascar.
“Based on the original movie, [Madagascar is] loud, there’s a lot of action, a lot of dancing and singing. The audience is definitely up on their feet by the end. It’s very colourful and funny. You’re going to hear the song ‘Move It, Move It’ a number of times,” Gregory says.
“We wanted a feelgood musical as the first show to bring back. People want something they can feel comfortable to go see. And it’s Christmas so people tend to do things together as a family – although a lot of people do come without kids. They just remember the movies from when they were young.”
“Madagascar The Musical”, Lyric Theatre, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, December 14 to 24. Tickets: HK$395 to HK$795 from HK Ticketing.