Italy has long been plagued with a lazy approach to putting on musicals. Looked on as easy money makers, the artistic and financial input is often skipped over for quicker gains. Mistake! Audiences were not happy getting ripped off by incompetent production teams providing cheap imitations of Broadway shows or Hollywood musicals. Not everything was bad, but a lot was.
That changed in 2009 when the Dutch theatre giant Stage Entertainment took over the Teatro Nazionale in Milan. The company, which boasts 30 theatres in 9 European countries, restructured it from the stage to the stalls at a cost of €16 million, and brought in Beauty and the Beast which was as polished as anything in London's West End.
Italy doesn't have cities the size of a New York or London. Before unification the country was a collection of smaller regions, each with its own capital, so even the big centres such as Milan and Rome have less than 3 million inhabitants. This hinders theatrical spectaculars which require long get-ins and modifications to the stage because productions need to tour to reach audiences from Verona to Palermo. A month in Milan is already exceptional, a week is sometimes possible in other large towns on a touring schedule.
There was change in the air before Stage Entertainment's arrival. In 1997, a production of Grease by the Compagnia della Rancia took everyone by surprise by remaining more than a couple of months in Milan. The presence of one of Italian TV's most famous personalities as Sandy certainly helped the show's popularity. However when it was announced that Beauty and the Beast would be programmed in Milan for almost 6 months there were many raised eyebrows amongst the theatre crowd. That's all very well for Berlin, but Milan?
Well the gamble paid off, and the next two seasons brought Mamma Mia! and Sister Act to the Nationale's stage. Now ready to throw open the doors on their fourth season, Stage Entertainment Italy has found a secure position in the Italian theatre world.
“Excellence in Entertainment: this is the vision at the very heart of all Stage Entertainment's activities”, reads the company blurb. But a vision of reality, not just a pipe dream!
Stage Entertainment in numbers:
They company has annual sales of €550 million, 3,500 employees, owns 25 theatres, presents 50 productions a year, with over 40,000 spectators a day.
Stage Italia sold 181,000 tickets for Sister Act and 123,000 for Mamma Mia! and employ 177 people. The budget for the new production is €3,5 million.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.