The longest running play in the world in not a musical. In fact, it is a murder mystery called The Mousetrap which has been running in London`s St Martin`s Theatre since 1952. That`s 68 years! Based on Agatha Christie`s short-story Three Blind Mice, its original producer thought it would run for 14 months. Christie herself gave it 8 months. That`s probably why she gave the right as a birthday present to her grandson. That`s some silver spoon in the mouth!
Generally, of course, it`s musicals which rule both New York`s Broadway and London`s West End. The hottest ticket in both places at present is Hamilton, an unlikely sung and rapped musical based on one of America`s ‘Founding Fathers’, Alexander Hamilton, with the twist that black actors play the lead white characters. Aladdin, another musical hit on Broadway and the West End, made a surprising, but well received debut in India.
Surprising because putting on a musical needs more than small change – most Broadway musicals cost between $ 10 to $ 20 million to stage. To recover money of that kind, you need high ticket prices and a long run. The Mumbai production did have high ticket prices (Rs 2500 to Rs 15,000), but its ‘long’ run was for a month. The Broadway production is now in its eighth year. That kind of sums up why theatre in India is still largely an amateur activity, sustained by love, not commerce.
Not all theatre in the West is commerce: in England, its National Theatre and Royal Court in London, and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon are all heavily subsidised by the government and by local authorities. Do our state bodies support theatre? They charge Entertainment Tax instead!
Based on the Walt Disney Film of 1992, the Aladdin we saw was great fun, a real Disney family entertainer. Produced by the ticket agency Book My Show and directed by Shruti Sharma, the ads boasted of ‘350 costumes! 14 locations! 50 performers!’ but left out the magical special effects, especially the flying carpet, no doubt to catch the audience by surprise. As in most Disney productions, the show`s biggest scene stealer is not the lead character, but a ‘side kick’. Here it`s the genie – he has the best costumes, the best lines and the best scope to ham it up.
Do we need more Aladdins in India? Of course we do. Disney earlier did a wonderful production of Beauty and the Beast in Mumbai but that too had its ‘long run’ of a few weeks. What the city needs is Aladdin`s magic lamp, and a genie which conjures up enough people for a play to run continuously for a year.
Mumbai`s mango season doesn`t have a long run either, but that`s the fault of Nature which squeezes it in into three months of summer. Votaries of other mango varieties keep extolling their superiority, but they know in their hearts that it`s a losing battle. Alphonso is king, and will always remain so.
But as is often the case with royalty, there`s always an imposter or two. With prices at their cheapest pegged at Rs 600 a dozen, there are the usual ripe-by-night operators who use artificial methods to ripen and even colour their produce. There are experts who claim to know the difference, but I haven`t met any yet.
The Nehru Science Centre, of all places, had a Mango Festival the other day. Even at 10 in the morning, the mango-sellers who had set up stalls in the tin roofed shed were ripening by the second, so hot and stifling it was inside. That didn`t lower the prices though. We bought super-sized Alphonso for Rs 800 a dozen, each mango a guaranteed 350 gm. The guarantee, as usual, didn`t cover the insides: a fourth of the box`s contents had gone bad in the centre. Always read the fine print.