BWW First Person: What A Difference A Transfer Can Make; Looking at the Differences in Shows Between London and New York
It's no secret that productions cross the Atlantic all the time - whether they be iconic blockbusters like PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or more recent Popular Productions such as BEAUTIFUL and KINKY BOOTS. Sometimes, those shows end up almost exactly the same in their new home, with only the most minute changes; others appear to be entirely new pieces. The casts may change; staging may vary. Sometimes certain turns of phrase are edited or altered to make more sense, geographically or in terms of local slang.
However, no matter how small the changes, it seems that something will always change during a transfer between the stages of Broadway and the West End. As someone who spent a semester in London, and had the privilege to see dozens of West End shows, as well as being able to see nearly one hundred Broadawy shows, I've been able to see the differences between many of these shows personally.
LES MISERABLES may not be running on Broadway at the moment, but in its most recent revival, I had the pleasure of seeing it four times - three times with Ramin Karimloo, and once with John-Owen Jones in the role of Valjean. While various productions of the show have appeared on Broadway over the years, the same production has played on the West End since its opening in 1985.
Currently the world's longest running musical, the West End production has been running for over 31 years. However, the recent revival and the London version are two entirely differeNT Productions, so there are many changes throughout the show.
One of the most significant changes between the 2014 Broadway revival, which was an off-shoot of the 25th Anniversary tour, and the original London production is the use of turntables versus that of projections. The Broadway revival used projections, modeled off of art by the novel's author Victor Hugo, to signify location changes and the like; the actors run across the stage as needed.
However, since 1985, the London production has been using large turntables to create the same effects. Having seen both, I can admit that the projections, to me, were more aesthetically appealing - however, seeing the massive turntable move, and knowing that it has been moving in the same way for more than 30 years - brings a certain amount of gravitas and history to the staging.
As a result of using the turntable in London and a non-moving stage on Broadway, much of the staging changed in various numbers, especially in the second act as events take place on the barricades and in the aftermath.
Another way that the show changed based on location was with the diversity of the cast. When I saw Les Miserables in London, the entire cast was white - something that surprised me, because on Broadway, many of the principal roles were played by actors of color. Ramin Karimloo, an Iranian actor, played Valjean; understudy the late Kyle-Jean Baptiste was the first African-American actor to play Valjean on Broadway.
The role of Enjolras was played first by THE COLOR PURPLE's Kyle Scatcliffe, then GODSPELL's Wallace Smith; both were African-American actors. Eponine was played by BOOK OF MORMON Tony-winner Nikki M. James, then DREAMGIRLS' Brennyn Lark. This trend was also evident in the prior 2006 production, with four of the principal roles played by actors of color.
Producer Cameron Mackintosh has long been one of the theatre's biggest proponents of color-blind casting, and while there have been notable actors of color in the West End production, such as MISS SAIGON's Rachelle Ann Go as Fantine and Eva Noblezada as Eponine in recent years, Lea Salonga in multiple principal roles in productions on both sides of the Atlantic, and Norm Lewis playing Javert in 2010/2011 - the Broadway production overall employed more diversity among its company in the multiple productions that I have seen.
However, overall the script remains the same - I didn't notice any marked differences or changes to the lyrics. One of the more interesting changes throughout is the way that audiences react differently to the show - what makes an audience laugh in the United States may be met with blank responses from the West End crowd, or vice versa. However, some scenes, such as the Thenardier numbers, always bring forth laughter.
The bloody adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's 1991 novel was never "standard" theatrical fare - it never shied away from the violence portrayed in the novel and later movie adaptation, and Patrick Bateman's psychotic inner monologues are never toned down for the sake of the audience. However, between London, where it premiered with DOCTOR WHO star Matt Smith in the leading role, and New York, where BLOODY BLOODY Andrew Jackson star Benjamin Walker took over, the show underwent serious changes and alterations.
When I saw the London production, playing at the Almeida Theatre and directed by Rupert Goold, I was somewhat surprised by the lack of blood. As someone who'd both read the book and seen the movie, I knew what to expect - and the show's starkly white set seemed to provide the perfect canvas for violence. Instead of fake blood, the audience saw murders implied with things like lighting effects (though, at points, Matt Smith was splattered with fake blood).
Goold seemed to note the same thing, saying in an interview with Buzzfeed about the move from the West End to Broadway, "We felt the show had cheated the audience because of that. If you go and see JAWS, you don't get much shark all the time, but you do need to see the shark at some point. That's why you're going. On one level, AMERICAN PSYCHO is 'grand guignol' Victorian splatter, and on another it is like a painting by Bacon or Bosch."
On Broadway, the rather bloodless staging was altered such a degree that it included a "splash zone" for the front rows of the audience, and certain numbers seemed to leave the stage painted red. However, the Broadway production did retain the stellar lighting effects and projections, earning a Tony nomination for the Best Lighting Design of a Musical. The production also won Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Lighting Design and Outstanding Projection Design, as well as Outer Critics Circle Awards for the same categories.
Of all the entries on this list, likely because I saw both productions early in their runs, the book and lyrics of AMERICAN PSYCHO changed the most during its transfer. Entire songs were cut or added, and the script was altered accordingly. A personal favorite song of mine, "Oh, Sri Lanka," which happens early in the first act, was cut for The New York production; however, the Broadway production includes more songs overall and even has a few reprises during Act 2.
Entire characters were also added or redefined. The characters in the London production seemed to be more cool and detached - but on Broadway, they were just as garish and grotesque as the blood that spattered across the stage. With more of a caricatured and comedic approach, the Broadway versions of the characters felt more satirical.
One of the only major changes in the West End production of WICKED is in the stage itself. The Apollo Victoria Theatre, home of the West End production, has a narrower, but deeper stage as compared to New York's Gershwin Theatre.
Because of this, the staging seems a bit less grandiose than it does on Broadway, and some of the scale seems to be lost as the action takes place in a more confined way. As a result, much of the blocking is changed. However, that does not change any major moments - Elphaba still takes flight at the end of "Defying Gravity;" "Dancing Through Life" still features wonderful dance moments; Glinda still drifts through the air on her bubble. There are some slight changes to the opening, but overall, there are no massive changes to the action onstage.
Story-wise and scene-wise, the production is almost entirely the same. There are only the slightest of changes to the script - minute changes that do not change the meaning of the phrases at all. One such example takes place at the end of "Popular," as Glinda gives Elphaba a flower for her hair.
The Broadway version uses the line "...pink goes good with green". On the West End, the line becomes "...pink looks good with green". This line change, along with a few others, are some of the only script changes to the production. There is also the addition of another, relatively minor, scene, taking place about halfway through the first act.
However, overall, WICKED remains the same no matter where it plays. Since the two theatres are playing the same production, it makes sense that the show would be nearly identical, whether on the West End or Broadway stages, and audiences are able to see what is essentially the same show in either location.
While MATILDA may be closed on Broadway, while still remaining open on the West End, it was another example of a production that barely changed during its transfer. Before its Broadway opening, there was apparently pressure for the Broadway production to be more "Americanized" - however, that pressure was rebuffed, and the show was performed almost identically to the one in the West End.
One of the only major changes is the inclusion of a brief overture on Broadway. The London production originally did include an overture, which was cut not that long into the production; however, The New York version maintained it, although it only lasted for around 20 to 30 seconds. The Broadway production also included a pre-show curtain.
Minor changes were made to the script for the Broadway production. However, they did not change the plot whatsoever; much like the changes made to WICKED, they were used to better fit in with the country's dialect and to better suit local turns of phrase. However, the British accents that the characters have remain in place, and the story's English location remains unchanged.
As with most transfers, the set pieces for The New York production were slightly different, though not in such a way that they affect the course of the show. The only other difference that might be noticed is the difference in orchestrations - some of the instruments have been added or removed between the West End and Broadway productions, and though I'm no Sound Designer, the Broadway production seemed to be consistently louder for whatever reason.
However, all in all, there are almost no changes between the British and American versions of the show. Both have the same characters and storyline and design - the differences are so slight that they are almost impossible to notice.
A production can change in a thousand ways as it transfers - songs are cut, casts are changed; characters are added or removed; costumes and choreography can be altered. Sometimes a show changes so much that it may be nearly unrecognizable. Sometimes, the show remains exactly the same, updating only to match its location. In the end, however, the result is always the same: a show to delight audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, regardless of what may happen in-between.