If you put on Les Miserables, they will come. Canberrans are very keen on musical theatre. Their tastes, however, are conservative - when Les Mis flops in the ACT, it will surely be a sign the end is nigh.
However, while Les Mis is surefire, and a select few other favourites like West Side Story, Oliver! and Jesus Christ Superstar often do well, lesser-known musicals often struggle to find an audience.
But it's not just the amateur theatre companies that know this.
The Canberra Theatre Centre's head of program and presenter services Gill Hugonnet says when the theatre presents professional touring musicals, it aims for ones that have demonstrated popular appeal and are of a smaller scale in order to fit the 1289-seat Canberra Theatre. Following previous research, a commercial-in-confidence study by the ACT government is under way for a new, larger theatre of about 2000 seats that might attract bigger productions.
Hugonet says there have been discussions about bringing limited-run touring shows here as part of their itinerary if entrepreneurs and companies think the expenses will be outweighed by the income generated.
She says the ACT "catchment area" is about one million people and would require specifically targeted marketing. However, she thinks there would be sufficient numbers who could be enticed from the region to come to Canberra, benefiting the producers, the theatre and the ACT.
Last year the Canberra Theatre hosted the "out of town tryout" for Mamma Mia! and achieved 90 to 100 per cent capacity over the run, she says, adding it probably could have had a longer season.
And other musicals presented in recent years such as Calamity Jane (familiar from its source, the Doris Day movie), which originated with Sydney's Hayes Theatre Company, were also hits.
Hugonet says a new theatre might also attract full-scale productions from Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet which won't fit onto the Canberra Theatre stage. She also hopes the Canberra Theatre Centre, with its venues of different sizes, might be able to present more of the less familiar shows and new Australian musicals if the bigger theatre comes and is successful.
Opera Australia is a co-producer, with GWB Entertainment and BB Group, of another perennial favourite for both professional theatre companies and amateur Canberra companies, West Side Story. It will be coming to the Canberra Theatre in October.
Anne Somes, artistic director of Canberra's Free-Rain Theatre Company which she founded 25 years ago, produced West Side Story in 2013.
In recent years she has turned the company's main focus from plays and more modest musical productions to bigger-scale, often pro-am musicals that have frequently been Canberra premieres: The Phantom of the Opera (2013); Legally Blonde - the Musical (2014); Mary Poppins (2015); The Little Mermaid and Wicked (both 2016) and Shrek - the Musical (2018). She's also produced the more familiar Les Miserables (2017) and 42nd Street (2018).
While her productions generally have done quite well - Wicked being the biggest hit - she says The Little Mermaid, geared to a younger audience, was "a bit of a struggle" even with earlier evening performances and Shrek also "didn't work as well I had hoped": having to mount it in the school holidays when the theatre was available (the shortage and limited availability of venues is a longstanding problem for companies) but the fact that many potential audience members were away didn't help.
Reviving a former Canberra practice seldom employed now, she has sometimes brought in professional actors: when she's had trouble casting roles locally; when they are star names with perceived box office appeal (Peter Cousins as Valjean in Les Miserables); and when she produced Phantom, in which Michael Cormick and Julie Lea Goodwin had acted previously. She says the local cast members benefit from the exposure to and mentoring from the professionals.
Most of the shows Somes has produced have some kind of recognition factor - a book, a film - but that's not a guarantee of success (nothing is). Still, it's playing it as safe as possible while still introducing new shows to Canberra.
"My experience is that Joe Public want to see something they know," Somes says.
Some companies like Queanbeyan Players have tried to cater to this, with varying levels of success for productions of well-known shows like Godspell and South Pacific. Audiences have been turning out for that company's latest production, Hello, Dolly!
Dolly's first-time director, Michael Moore, has been part of Canberra's musical theatre community community for the last 15 years as an actor, Canberra Philharmonic Society president and committee member.
While he appreciates and often enjoys productions of darker, riskier modern shows like Phoenix Players' Next to Normal, he says, "How many of those can you sustain to fund your next show?"
It's a delicate balancing act between what general audiences (as distinct from musical theatre aficionados) want to see - and if you're lucky as well as smart, making enough money to keep going - and providing new experiences for local cast and crew as well as theatre-goers.
Moore's own preference is for the happier musicals of the golden age like Hello, Dolly! But he says some of the older shows like The King and I are becoming harder to mount in an age where racially correct casting is increasingly expected.
A recent production of The Full Monty found it a challenge to cast an appropriate non-white actor in the role of Horse.
Moore says other musicals are becoming less popular as the core audiences for them age and die off. He notes the once-popular Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are getting "extremely difficult" to produce even though the original versions are out of copyright.
Somes will this year be producing another Canberra premiere of a recent show, Kinky Boots, which had a professional Australian production in 2016. She thinks the publicity that generated together with the movie it was adapted from will help create awareness but doesn't take it for granted.
She tries to gather as much information as possible on box office figures, where audiences come from and monitors Facebook discussions to target publicity. However, she has doubts about how effective social media is in promoting shows and converting views into sales and keeps her efforts diverse.
"People often shy away from television advertising," she says, but, she says, despite the expense it's a way of reaching a larger market. But she knows companies vary in size, ambition and resources and says they should act accordingly. She says, "Everybody has to know how they fit in the marketplace, that's the secret - make sure you know who you are and why you are."
Artistic director of Dramatic Productions Richard Block says his aim is "to bring something new to audiences".
He finds social media useful in marketing, donates a percentage of takings to various charities and also promotes group bookings for schools, community organisations and business organisations.
Sometimes all this works, sometimes it doesn't.
"The biggest disappointment from a marketing point of view was Catch Me If You Can (2016), Block says. Despite the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie of the same name, the relative obscurity of the show meant it simply didn't translate into audience interest and ticket sales.
But Dramatic Productions had a big success with the Canberra premiere of Heathers - the Musical (2018), adapted from the cult 1980s movie that has proved to have enduring appeal. That show was directed by Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts.
This team also directed Phoenix Productions' production of the dark musical Spring Awakening, which received good reviews but did not do well at the box office.
Roberts, an actor and director in Canberra for the last 12 years, acknowledges Spring Awakening - dealing with difficult subject matter such as child abuse and suicide - was a hard sell.
She understands why companies often shy away from riskier material but reckons it can still be done, on a smaller scale perhaps like the Hayes Theatre shows in Sydney. Roberts and Pegg will be teaming up again soon to direct Stephen Sondheim's Assassins for Everyman Theatre and she's already thinking about how to market it.
Roberts says a lot of American musical theatre is "not always relatable to modern Australian audiences" and welcomes the production of Australian-made musicals like the upcoming Muriel's Wedding, based on the film of the same name, that could eventually be mounted in Canberra. (another film adaptation, Strictly Ballroom, was produced by Canberra Philharmonic Society in 2017).
And there are many shows Canberra theatre people would like to see produced here. Mockingbird Theatre founder Chris Baldock, an actor and director, has a long list including Sondheim's Follies and Merrily We Roll Along and Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
He says, "The World Goes 'Round shows that smaller revue-style shows can be done well here. Side by Side by Sondheim or Putting It Together and Jerry's Girls are just some off the top of my head. Some are more popularist than others but all would do well depending on theatre size, good marketing and a clever director."
All the theatre practitioners agree that simply putting on a show is not enough. Creating awareness and interest that will get people to buy tickets is key, so marketing is crucial. Ideas for this range from advertising and coverage in traditional media like newspapers and television to posting on social media, roadside signs, posters, public performance excerpts and pitching party bookings to business and social groups.
Determining which theatre would work best is also important in order to select one suitable to a show's scale and appeal: some riskier musicals could be housed in smaller theatres like the new space at the Australian National University (when it is available: always a challenge with venues).
As Sondheim wrote in Sunday in the Park With George, "Art isn't easy."