Last week, I produced a rehearsed sing-through of a new musical.
It was not based on anything. Not a film, not a piece of literature, not a jukebox catalogue of popular songs. The writers had never written a musical before. And it was brilliant, and I’ve committed to see it to stage.
I’ll tell you the chance serendipity that led to this in a moment. But it got me thinking – we all talk all the time about how there are no new composers of new musical theatre in the offing, but I think there are, we just aren’t providing the platforms.
Neil Marcus leads the cause through Mercury Musical Developments brilliantly, and has co-ordinated the Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer Scheme, Chris Grady has worked to replace the Vivian Ellis Prize with the Musical Theatre Network and Andy Barnes of Perfect Pitch has helped see Departure Lounge and The Go Between to professional productions from his Arts Council England-funded workshops. But what we really need in addition to these champions is powerful producers to support new musical theatre writing commercially – in the same way that Cameron Mackintosh gave Stiles & Drewe and John Dempsey & Dana P Rowe (and indeed Boublil and Schönberg) their early commercial breaks.
Recently, I’ve been impressed by Jude Obermüller’s original music in Peter Huntley’s quite brilliant play Farragut North at the new Southwark Playhouse, and I enjoyed Lift and Therese Raquin at the Finborough. I have clients working on lots of workshops at the moment, sending exciting reports back from Bend It Like Beckham, Wind in the Willows and the top secret Tim Minchin project we can’t name. And James Bourne is to follow Loserville with two more offerings, one with a very famous co-writer yet to be announced.
So feeling all inspired after last week’s workshop, I thought I’d share with you the bizarre turn of events that led to me unearthing musical brilliance.
So I met actress Aoife Nally, when she shared Dressing Room No.9 with my partner at the time, Robyn North, along with Leila Benn Harris, Jodie Jacobs, Jackie Marks, Sarah Ryan and Kirsty Mather. All became friends, many I ended up working with. Boy that was a talented ensemble that David Grindrod and his team assembled.
Aoife followed Evita with spells in Aspects of Love and Imagine This, but it was during her run of The Light in the Piazza at Leicester Curve, that I got carried away and suggested she write a musical. She had recently recorded a demo album of folk songs, several of which made me cry when she sent it to me, and it struck me while watching Adam Guettel’s masterpiece, that her songs were not dissimilar in musical style, and that she shared his gift as a storyteller. So, back to the bar at the Curve, and after a few too many G+T’s, I told her she should write a musical.
I didn’t think about it much again, for several years, when suddenly she called the office, during her run in Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi. She told me that she had finished the musical I had suggested she write (did I remember?!) and that I might enjoy it as it inevitably had echos of Sondheim as well as Guettel, given it had been written to that nightly backdrop.
So after all her toil, with her co-composer Fergal O’Mahony (a talent that I could spend another column writing about individually), I felt I shouldn’t just read the script, but have it sung through by a fabulous cast. And so the cast consisted of Evita co-stars Kirsty Mather and Gary Milner, the incomparable Linzi Hateley, Will Barratt, Sarah Lark, Hannah Levane and Robine Landi (who brought Aoife and Fergal together originally). I’m not going to give anything away about its content yet, it would be premature, but as I sat there listening to these incredible voices sing this heartbreaking story, I got that bubble of excitement that always make me do something wreckless (like, oh god, produce a musical).
It made me think of how our agency started, spawned from the production company of two passionate theatre enthusiasts David Cole and Guy Kitchenn, whose hope for the agency I was to lead, was for us to discover and nurture new talent. And with this strange course of events, it’s exactly what we’re doing in more ways than one. I’ve lost money producing musicals in the past, and only really made money producing plays and representing talent. But this one is not about the money – it’s about art. And if I’m right about that, the rest may follow.
I look forward to sharing with you our next instalment.