As that good old song goes in Annie Get Your Gun, “there’s no business like show business”.
Why? Because with every great thrill, there’s an even greater risk. It’s risky for everyone involved – actors, writers, musicians and especially the investors and the theatre owners.
About a year ago I was asked by a potential show biz investor if I could speak to Billy Joel on their behalf on my forthcoming regular trip to New York.
“No problem” I said, thinking, how could I do that?
As it turns out Billy Joel plays in New York 8 or 9 times a year with sell out performances at Madison Square Gardens. All these years later, the piano man is still a hit.
I “reached out” as the Americans say, to a good friend Jimmy Nederlander, whose family are big theatre owners in New York. Within 48 hours of arriving, I was talking business with Jimmy and Billy in his dressing room.
People who own theatres take risks. And that’s the way it’s been for centuries.
More than a generation ago, Robert Holmes a Court, the great Australian financier who terrorised a lot of companies and at one point had planned to take over our biggest company BHP, became enchanted with “the smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd”. He quickly went on to become the largest single owner of London’s West End Theatres.
The biggest daytime star of Australian television in the ‘70’s and ’80’s was Mike Walsh. Mike is still around and in his gentle retirement he owns and runs Her Majesty’s Theatre in my city of Melbourne and the Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne Sydney.
But this story is about the great theatre owning dynasty of Melbourne – the marvellous Marriners; David and Elaine and their son Jason. They own the giant Regent Theatre, The Forum where I once saw the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Princess Theatre which is about to join a very exclusive theatrical club.
From January next year, the Princess Theatre of Melbourne will join the Palace Theatre in London and the Lyric Theatre in New York in presenting the dazzling awarding winning play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
It's a massive exercise that requires a huge investment in preparing the theatre. This is no ordinary “bump in” as they say in the theatre. It takes months of technical set up for all the mind-boggling wizardry of the books to turn into a magical live theatre experience. This show will run for at least 3 years and it will build the economy of Melbourne, Victoria and Australia as people fly in from all over Australia, South East Asia and the South Pacific to see it.
The show takes up where the final Harry Potter book finished. I can’t say much more than that because commentators and reviewers are asked not to be spoilers. In the London production front of house staff hand out badges at intervals asking audience members to #KeepTheSecrets.
So, my hat’s off to people like the Marriner’s. They put a lot on the line to bring delight into the lives of thousands and to build an economy that benefits everyone including those few people who have never read a Harry Potter book or seen a film – even those who won’t go to the live performance.
You see, when you start to plan a show like this many years before the opening night, you’ve got a blank sheet of paper and a $30 million hole before anyone turns up. But it’s risk takers like the Nederlanders in New York and the Marriners of Melbourne who know how to make it all work.
Not everyone can do it but we’re grateful for that those that do. And to all the others who start up new ventures at any point. I salute them all.
Harry Potter tells us a lot. It’s all about seeing beyond what many think is possible. Just consider JK Rowling who had the idea of Harry Potter one day on a train and the people like the Marriners who bring a new version of the story to all of us.
Without spoiling the show for any reader, I can tell you that in the first scene of the play, the forty-year-old Harry Potter instructs his son to run straight at a brick wall. He repeats the advice that he had received 20 years earlier - “Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it; that’s very important”.
What more do we need to know about taking the chances that life offers to us all?