The Original Cast Recording, or OCR, is something that has become a staple ingredient to the recipe that produces ‘the musical’. First comes the regional and off-Broadway debuts, then the Broadway debut, promotional performances, and finally the cast recording. It would be fair to take these as signs that a show has become successful; so much so that producers want to ensure the longevity and legacy of the show via Spotify and Apple Music. But, what about the smaller shows?
A lot of the time, producers won’t touch a show without proof of existing audiences and a guarantee that the show is going to bring in money for them. Part of the pitch process to get a show at the infamous 54 Below is providing statistics of existing audience, so they can make sure it’s worth investing money into a show. Alongside this, without something to draw audiences in, such as the show being based on pre-existing source material (good examples of this are Beetlejuice and Mean Girls), being written, produced or starring major actors (like Hamilton, or Newsies), or a biopic story with a jukebox soundtrack (such as Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and The Cher Show), shows struggle to hit the ground running.
The most obvious way to draw in musical theatre audiences for musicals is to take the musical to them. By giving audiences a taster of the songs, the lyrics, and the range of material they can expect from performers, the show can build a fan base before they’ve even had a stage debut. This would help to build the fan base, gain followers on social media, and prove to producers that the show is worth their time and money.
If I said the words “We Are The Tigers”, it is unlikely that you would know what I was talking about. We Are The Tigers had their off-Broadway debut in early 2019, and starred actress Lauren Zarkin, who previous starred in the MTV competition The Search for the Next Elle Woods (MTV, 2008). The murder mystery musical has a stunning score, hilarious script, complex characters, LGBTQ+ representation, and a cast of 10 where only one of the characters is male. However, since their final performance on April 1st, they have made a total of six Instagram posts. The likeliness of drawing in more audiences without an active social media presence is unlikely.
I was lucky enough to be one of the few that experienced the show live, but upon returning to the United Kingdom I had no way to share this show with my fellow theatre nerds. That was until We Are The Tigers released a cast album. I received messages from friends that I had told about the show, telling me how amazing the soundtrack to the show was and how they would love to see it. Suddenly, this niche show was reaching audiences over 3,000 miles away; audiences they would have never reached if it wasn’t for releasing a cast album.
So why aren’t cast recordings for small productions more common?
According to an interview with composer Kurt Deutsch, smaller show cast recordings in the US cost roughly $150,000, and Broadway shows cost roughly $375,000 to produce an album. The fees include salary for the performers as well as the orchestra and everything else in between. Therefore recording a cast album is not only not desirable for smaller productions, they may simply not be able to afford it. However, once the run of the show is over, how can they continue to grow their audiences?
In her article ‘We Need to talk about Elitism in Theatre’, Danni Scott has already established just a few of the reasons why theatre is just completely inaccessible to so many people. The worst part is, the industry knows the answers… They just can’t afford them.
The bottom line is, although the theatre industry makes millions, in order to produce a small show, at least in America, it can cost between $500,000 and $3,000,000. To add the cost of a cast recording onto that budget sometimes just isn’t feasible, even though it could potentially be one of the key ways to gain an audience and eventually progress to further productions.
Words by Lauren Peters