All The World's a Stage

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Greetings America from London, where I'm pleased to report that one of the most popular forms of entertainment -- the musical -- is thriving.

"My Fair Lady" opened in the West End last week – to a record box office advance and wild acclaim. Some say it’s the greatest of them all – and international - written by Americans, Lerner & Lowe, based on a play by an Irishman, George Bernard Shaw, and originally starring a great English charmer, Rex Harrison – though when they wrote it, Lerner & Lowe had Noel Coward in mind. Yul Brynner’s old warhorse, "The King and I," is also back, just one of twenty musicals currently swamping London’s theatreland. Four are by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the most successful musical writer in history, responsible, of course, for "Cats," the longest-running musical of all time, still on in London after twenty years. It has played in 50 countries to 250 million people and grossed in excess of two billion dollars.

The world’s most expensive musical flop was "Carrie," based on the Stephen King novel, which opened -- and closed -- on Broadway in the same week thirteen years ago. It ran for just five nights and cost seven million dollars. These days new shows don’t fare as well as old ones. It seems audiences like to go INTO the theatre whistling the tunes. The oldest musical currently playing here is "The Gondoliers" by Gilbert and Sullivan, written a hundred and twenty years ago; the most commercially successful is "Mama Mia," based on the all too familiar pop songs of the Swedish group, ABBA. And if we don’t have stars built on the same scale as Ethel Merman and Rex Harrison any more, we make up for it by creating shows ABOUT stars – the story of Buddy Holly has been playing here for more thirteen years. Most of London's current musicals are mainly by two or more people – Gilbert & Sullivan, Lerner & Loewe, Rodgers & Hammerstein. Happily Cole Porter’s "Kiss Me, Kate" is arriving any minute now.

Once, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the band struck up “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific. A friend asked Cole Porter, ‘Who wrote that?’ Said Mr Porter, "Rodgers and Hammerstein – if you can imagine it taking two men to write one song."