Up Close and Personal: Immersive Musical Revivals

Last summer, I found the production of Les Miserables that was playing in Texas. Usually, this would not strike me as particularly intriguing, but this production was different. It was Les Mis, immersive theatre style.

Immersive theatre is super popular right now. Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 set a sliver of a Tolstoy novel to electropop music in a Russian dinner club, while the Public’s Here Lies Love last year told the story of the Marcoses of the Philippines in which spectators were molded into the Filipino population by the show’s infectious pop music and the upbeat club atmosphere. Both were incredible successes and immense fun. Immersive theatre is a great way to challenge the traditional proscenium productions of musicals and can result in exciting actor/spectator interactions. So, this got me thinking: which other shows could be staged effectively in an immersive theatre style?

Hair

Hair is already associated with immersive theatre–the 2009 Diane Paulus production invited the entire audience onto the Al Hirschfield stage during the curtain call for a hippie dance party. But how fantastic could this show be if the entire story was told in a “be-in,” with audience members dressing in 1970s flower child garb and interacting with the cast members? It reminds me of the avant-garde environmental theatre of the 1960s (though not musical theatre, check out Dionysus in 69 for some unreal stories of audience participation!) where both the actors and spectators were completely fearless and free-spirited. There was even audience participation at their Tony performance – it could be just the beginning!

The Wild Party

Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party is based on a poem about one crazy night during the 1920s where some serious shenanigans went down. How could this be improved upon? Set a production in a speakeasy, of course! Audience members could arrive in 1920s party clothes, drink, socialize, and have a great time; that is, until their fellow partygoers start going berserk and the fun dissolves into chaos.

Once

The minute I sat down at Once, I thought, “This should be an immersive musical.” The Broadway production already opened the bar set to the audience to buy drinks before the show and during intermission, so why not just commit whole-hog to the concept? Once tells the super intimate story of two musicians’ almost love affair, and while it is beautiful on a big Broadway stage, I believe it could be just as much so when played to a small crowd in an Irish pub.

Any other ideas for some musicals that could play well as immersive theatre? Leave a comment!

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