I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle based on the novel by Dodie Smith Book and lyrics Teresa Howard music Steven Edis

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

John Sparks Masterclass

Today I had a masterclass on the book of our new show with LA Producer and writer, John Sparks. We met at the Hampshire Hotel in Leicester Square, which was bang in the centre of town but quiet and a good place to talk. I will use it again.

He had not read the novel that the musical is taken from but this turned out to be really helpful, because he had no assumptions about what was going on. It was a lively and exciting meeting and I left feeling I wanted to get back to my desk straight away to get on with it!

The interesting thing is that revelations which are kept secret from a reader of the novel need to be shown to the audience in the book, it is only the other characters who have to be kept in the dark. At the moment I haven't been quite honest enough for the audience and this is what I have to tackle now.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


Hackney Empire are putting on Susie McKenna's Aladdin, with music by Steve Edis. The glorious Clive Rowe is playing Widow Twanky! He was nominated for an Olivier Award for his role in last years Mother Goose.

The show opens on 28th November and runs until 9th January. I can't wait!

But I must get on with another song.

Music and Lyrics

Now that Steve's work on Inherit the Wind is over we have managed to get some time to work on songs for the new show again, before work begins on the Hackney Christmas panto. Last week the National Theatre lent us a rehearsal room, with a piano, to work in so we could meet up in town between other engagements. It was so quiet and cut off in the bowels of the theatre, a perfect place to work, so we got a lot done. Now that there is more music I am beginning to hear the show as well as see it in my mind, which is a very exciting moment. Because the new musical is set in the 1930's we have decided to have a 1930's feel to the songs... both in music and lyrics. I have spent a lot of time reading lyrics of the time, but because it is such a golden era of song writing many of the songs have slipped over into other era's - songs like "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "I've got you Under My Skin". So it has not been as difficult as I had thought to capture the feel. The difficult part was the transition from the style of Possessed, which felt like moving on to a new relationship.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Inherit the Wind

I went to see a preview of Inherit the Wind on Sunday. The Old Vic has now decided to follow Broadway's lead, having Sunday afternoon shows and leaving the theatre dark on Mondays. The theatre was completely packed. Arriving for a 5pm performance which lasted over two hours still meant I was home for supper on Sunday night. A brilliant idea Kevin!

This is a fascinating show by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee about the 1925 Tennessee "Monkey Trial" which sets Freedom of Thought and the writings of Darwin against bigotry and creationist ideas. It was first performed in 1955 but is now directed by Trevor Nunn to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth.

Steve Edis is the musical supervisor for the show. The musical element is so incredibly important for the audience to understand the background of this idealistically religious town in Tennessee. Their wonderful harmonies and soaring songs help us to see how powerful their religion is to their way of life. The songs were chosen with great care and sung beautifully.

The two leads in the play are Kevin Spacey as the lawyer Henry Drummond and David Troughton as Matthew Harrison Brady the MP who acts for the prosecution - two magnificent performances which must be seen.

Paris Arrowsmith, who read one of the lead parts in our new musical a few months ago, is in the show. Paris graduated from RADA in 2008 bursting with talent and inspiration. He plays three small but beautifully detailed characters Phil, the Reuters Man and the organ grinder. Each character has a different accent and carefully constructed body movement. As the organ grinder he has to cope with a live monkey on stage. The monkey is written into the script, an essential ingredient in a play which deals with Darwin's theories on the origin of the species, but as always with animals on stage it cannot be guaranteed what it will do! I hope we are going to see more of Paris in the future.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

UK Songwriting Competition Semi-Finalists

Steve and I are Semi-Finalists in the UK Songwriting Competition for three of the solo songs from POSSESSED - Hold Still, Raft of Delight and Hungry Sea. All three of these songs are solos sung by Jane in the musical. This is a worldwide competition and had 6,000 entries. Hold Still, the last song in the show, had the highest score and almost reached the finals. This is a competition for mainly Pop and Indie songs. It was a bit of a shot in the dark but to have come anywhere in a competition like this, where winners get signed up by Simon Cowell, seems rather amazing!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Desperate Romantics Episode 4 Tonight

Episode 4 of Desperate Romantics is on tonight at 9pm on BBC 2. The picture above is of Holman Hunt (Maniac), just returned from the Holy Land to discover that Annie Miller has been sharing her Holy Land with someone else.

Desperate Romantics Episodes 2 & 3

I have now had a chance to watch the two episodes of Desperate Romantics that I missed while living out a Greek Idyll on the beautiful Island of Patmos. The reviews have been mixed, and some quite vicious, but the viewing figures for the series have been well over the 2 million mark, and mainly women, which is what I had thought it would be. The hits on our Possessed website have dramatically increased and July had the most traffic since we created the site. I have a feeling that this is something to do with the TV series!

However critical one could be about the series, it is exciting and does at least bring the PRB into the public awareness. One character I am really enjoying is that of Lizzie. While writing Possessed I had to restrain the character of Lizzie from taking over the show. The musical focuses on Jane Morris but Lizzie Siddal is one of the most extraordinary characters in the story and it is hard to turn the spotlight away from her. To some extent she used the brotherhood even more than they used her in the end, getting an artistic education from them and becoming an artist in her own right with patronage from Ruskin. Her poetry was rich with imagery... a Sylvia Plath of the 19th Century, with Rossetti her own Ted Hughes.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Greek Island Meeting

Steve and I met up on the Greek Island of Aegina to talk about the new show and had a big family lunch, before setting off to our separate islands.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Desperate Romantics Episode 1

It was very strange and exciting to watch this programme which stepped into the Pre-Raphaelite world, a place which has been the source of my inspiration for so long. So far there are only two characters in this episode of Desperate Romantics who appear in Possessed - Lizzie and Gabriel. It was very curious to watch someone else's chracterisation of them. This episode focuses on the entrance of Lizzie into the Pre-Raphaelite milieu and Possessed sees her leaving it with Gabriel's grief and sense of inadequacy. Possessed comes about ten years after this when the original Brotherhood has gone its separate ways and Gabriel is at the heart of the second wave.

Bowker has invented the character of Fred Walters as a narrator and commentator acting as a link between the artists and the audience. Although he is a fictional character he is very likeable and takes the place of the ordinary man, surrounded by the larger than life characters of the artists. I wonder why he didn't use William Rossetti, Gabriel's brother, who was a member of the PRB even though he wasn't an artist. William could have acted as much the same character.

It is impossible for me to be objective about the series, in any kind of way, but I am pleased that it has happened. I am on the Greek Island of Patmos at the moment and so will have to wait until I return to see the rest of the series.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


The first episode of the Pre-Raphaelite series Desperate Romantics begins at 9pm on BBC2 this Tuesday.

Above is a picture of Aidan Turner who is playing Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Matthew White directing at the Menier

A curious chance meeting with Matthew White yesterday in Tottenham Court Road! Matt played Topsy in the Oxford Playhouse performance of Possessed. Matt is a wonderful actor and director and directed the very successful Little Shop of Horrors production staged at the Menier in 2006 and subsequently transferred to the West End's Duke of York's and New Ambassadors Theatres, and has recently been on a national tour. The production was choreographed by Stephen Mears (2007 Tony nominee for Best Choreography for Mary Poppins which he co-choreographed with Matthew Bourne, and currently also represented on Broadway by his choreography for The Little Mermaid).

Matt is going to be directing a revival of the1966 Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields and Neil Simon musical Sweet Charity at the Menier as its Christmas musical running from 21st November 2009 to 7th March 2010. Former Eastenders star Tamzin Outhwaite is on board to play the title character of Charity Hope Valentine, created on Broadway by Gwen Verdon and subsequently in the 1969 film version by Shirley MacLaine.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Desperate Romantics Advert

If you click on the title of this blog it will take you directly to the advert for Desperate Romantics, with the background music of "Heroes" by David Bowie! I just hope it helps to make people realise how exciting these people could be on stage.

Desperate Romantics

The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood website posted a piece about the new Desperate Romantics BBC series today. Above is a publicity photo from it. I have not seen the advertisements on the BBC for the series but have been told that they have already begun. Judging from the PRB Sisterhood site, this is going to be a very controversial series but will at least give the general public a glimmer of insight into who these fascinating people were.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

First Draft Reading

On Friday we had an "in camera" first draft reading of the book (without songs) of our new show. The new musical is based on a well known novel and so I am not going to reveal the name of it on the blog yet. We had a great cast, including Alice Rowell, three RADA graduates: Mark Edel Hunt, Paris Arrowsmith and Lottie Latham, a new Arts Ed student Frances Knox and Richard Southgate who was in Spring Awakening. It was an electric evening, and Steve and I were pleased to see that the structure and work we have already put in is beginning to take shape. The characters and the humour really seemed to come through and produced a very entertaining evening. The energy and enthusiasm from the predominantly young cast was very exciting.

Steve and I are onto our next song and hope that soon we will have written enough songs to make a demo cd.

Artist Ilinca Cantacuzino captured the moment by sketching the actors while they were reading. This impromptu ink sketch will now be part of her Notebook Series. She brought round a copy of it for me yesterday which is now on my study wall.

In the photograph above are Paris Arrowsmith and Frances Knox reading from the new show.

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Pre-Raphaelites Episode 3

Episode 3 of The Pre-Raphaelites documentary on BBC4 focused on how the PRB attained riches and celebrity with their paintings. By the 1860's they had outgrown the status of avant-garde and started producing art for the masses. With the help of dealers like Ernest Gambart. There were three essential ways that the artists became top celebrities: selling works of art for profit, taking them on tour with gaslight showings costing a shilling to view and making engravings. It had become much easier to make engravings and prints were so good they could sell limited editions for a great deal of money. The prints made it possible to reach a great deal of people and raise the artists' profile.

Holman Hunt became a millionaire and his work began to be seen worldwide rather than just in the UK. Gambart the dealer, bought the copyright in Hunt's Light of the World and it toured the Empire, New Zealand and South Africa, making it the most famous painting in the world at that time.

Rossetti, who did not like exhibiting anymore was able to sell his work through private dealers and commissions.

The PRB which began as a close knit Brotherhood started to fragment. Hunt and Ruskin were horrified by the erotic route that Rossetti's work was going down. Millais began to specialise in commercial portraiture following in the footsteps of Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1885 he was made a Baronet and his painting of Bubbles marked him out as the ultimate commercial artist. This has never stopped - his painting of Ophelia is still the best selling image in the Tate Bookshop. The ideals they began with which were so similar were left behind as they each started to follow their own interests. The PRB had revolutionised British art and the principles which had dominated it since the Renaissance.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Pre-Raphaelites Episode 2

Episode two of the BBC 4 Pre-Raphaelite documentary series focuses on the innovative way that the PRB handled landscape painting. The programme stressed how the PRB pre-dated the French Impressionists by ten years in their methods. It explained how they started to actually paint landscapes outdoors using pre-prepared paint carried in pigs bladders so that their work would have even more naturalism and spontaneity. One of the most beautiful and detailed of these paintings was Millais' painting of Ophelia (above). Lizzie Siddal was the model for Ophelia, lying in a tin bath. Lizzie was so dedicated that even when the candles around the bath went out she still continued to keep up her position in the bath of freezing water and became very ill afterwards. POSSESSED would have been incomplete without this story and the significance of it in her life.

The programme is on again tonight but you can also view it on iplayer.

Rossetti in the Subway

The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood Website sent me this picture today. It is a copy of Rossetti's painting 'The Beloved' on tiles at Pimlico Station. The photo was taken by Jack Challem. I haven't been to see it myself yet but will have to think of an excuse to go to the Tate Britain again just to look at it.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Pre-Raphaelites BBC 4

Last night saw the beginning of the BBC documentary series The Pre-Raphaelites which you can still view on BBC iplayer. If you click on the title above it will take you straight there.

The series is produced by Franny Moyle, author of the book Desperate Romantics, and is a taster of what is to come in her forthcoming TV drama series of the same name. Desperate Romantics, the Drama and the book bring to life the relationships of the Pre-Raphaelites. This documentary series is more concerned with their art, described simply, and punchily with brief comments from well known Pre-Raphaelite Scholars like Alison Smith from the Tate, Jan Marsh the writer and Prof. Elizabeth Prettejohn. I presume it is an attempt inform us about the movement and to whet out appetites before the drama begins.

Episode 1 looks at the origins of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. It discusses their first revolutionary paintings that hit the headlines and were received with horror, until John Ruskin came along to champion them. The programme explains that is was the Raphael-ites, the followers of Raphael who the PRB were turning away from, rather than Raphael himself who they saw as a great artist. The word "Audacious" seems to be the buzz word of the programme!

The next episode which looks at the way the PRB transformed landscape painting, ten years before the French Impressionists, and can be viewed on BBC 4 at 8.30 on Tuesday 23rd June and on Wednesday 24th June at 7.30pm.

The Rossetti painting above is entitled Ecce Ancilla Domini! Also known as The Annunciation. It shows Christina Rossetti posing as the Virgin Mary in what was to be a highly criticised work depicting the religious story in a naturalistic and symbolic way, which was very shocking to a Victorian public. It was also one of Rossetti's series of "white Pictures" experimenting with luminous white backgrounds a direct reversal of the dark murky style the Royal Academy preferred for imitating old masters.

Sunday, 7 June 2009


Last week I went to see The Pre-Raphaelite Live Canon, directed by Helen Eastman, at the Finborough Theatre. This was a performance of the poetry of William Morris, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Meredith, Elizabeth Siddal and Algernon Swinburne. It was performed by Charles de Bromhead, Curtis Jordan and Anthony Shuster. Some of William Morris's poetry had been set to music by Jerome de Bromhead, one of Ireland's leading contemporary composers.

It was a very moving evening with poetry and a capella singing, performed with exceptional finesse and emotional integrity. I especially liked the Morris poetry set to Jerome de Bromhead's music. It is rare to see poetry performed in such an entertaining and exciting way and I hope that there will be more events like this.

The Finborough Canon ended on 1st June but this is a touring show with other poetry Canon's including the Romantics and Metaphysical Poets. When I find out when the next showing is I will put it up on the site.


Steve and I worked on the structure of the new show together and I have now finished the first draft of the book. We are having a private reading on 10th July to see how the book is coming along. In the meantime we are also working on the songs. This is a very different show from Possessed, with a predominantly younger cast and is set in the 1930's.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Cyrano at Chichester Festival Theatre

As Peter Lathan, the critic for the British Theatre Guide, tells us "Steven Edis provides some exceptionally lovely music" for Trevor Nunn's production of Cyrano de Bergerac at Chichester Festival. I went to see the show on the second preview and had a wonderful evening. The music had been studio recorded but although this is not the way Steve usually works he found it interesting and it had a lot of scope for refinement and alteration which is not possible with a live band. Although everyone prefers live music there was so much going on on stage and such an enormous cast I can quite see why this was not a priority but if it goes into the West End I do hope we will have live music.

Joseph Feinnes is a very exciting Cyrano, totally believable, with just the right amount of Panache and vulnerability. He is an intelligent actor and it was wonderful to see that he is just as good on the boards as he is on screen. His co-star Alice Eve, who plays Roxanne is superb and gives a depth to the character which I had never seen in previous productions.

It is quite a trek to get to Chichester and back for such a long evening but well worth it. The time swept by and I loved the production and thought Anthony Burgess's new version of the play was brilliant!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Lincoln Center

When I was in New York I gave the Possessed book and music to Ira Weitzman to have a look at. Mr Weitzman is the Associate Producer of Musical Theatre at the Lincoln Center and has worked behind the scenes on many hit musicals, among them the original productions of Contact; The Light in the Piazza; Falsettos; Sunday in the Park with George; Into the Woods and Passion; Assassins, and Lincoln Center's current smash-hit revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. When I went to New York I was told that he was the man I needed to get in touch with and somehow I did.

He told me that he really had too many new musicals in development but would look at the show to see what he thought. I got a lovely email from him today congratulating us on the show and saying that it is "a heartfelt, romantic piece with an appropriately evocative score which I enjoyed listening to." He is still too busy with new shows but it is good to know that we have made contact with a truly inspired producer in New York.

Friday, 3 April 2009


Steve is re-mixing the sound track from the Oxford performance of Possessed. We have been using the raw recording and now with the levels of voice and instrumental sound re-mixed it is all beginning to sound a lot better. Soon we will have a much better recording to send out to producers.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A Little Night Music

I went to see Trevor Nunn's production of A Little Night Music this evening, at the Garrick. It was a stunning show with brilliant performances. I didn't manage to see it at the Menier Chocolate Factory, but can see why it transferred to the West End. The house was packed and you could feel that the audience loved every moment of it. An absolute triumph for Trevor Nunn! It's well worth seeing if you manage to get a ticket.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Red House

Last week I went to visit Red House, in Bexley Heath. William Morris built Red House as a home for his new wife Jane and hoped that it would become a community of artists, living and working together. This never happened, and in fact they only spent five years there, from 1860 to 1865. The architect was Morris's friend Philip Webb, one of the most important figures of the Arts and Crafts movement. The interior design company that Morris set up began as a need to furnish this curious and remarkable house.

I had somehow never got round visiting it, partly because it was not open to the public when I was originally researching the story. I had always longed to go and so a week ago I went off to see it with my artist friend Ilinca Cantacuzino. You have to email or call the house and reserve a place on a tour of the building. The tour leader was completely charming and full of interesting little stories about the secret places in the house, its history and the people who lived there both in Morris's time and afterwards.

We were lucky that it was one of those delicious early spring mornings, with all the blossom out. The structure of the garden has changed since Jane and Morris lived there and the curators hope that one day they will have the funds to reinstate the garden along its original lines. But it was still very beautiful, and still feels very much a part of the house.

I tried to imagine what it was like for jane to have lived there. It seemed so huge next to the tiny little apartment in the alleyway in Oxford. There was one particular little window seat which Jane was supposed to sit on doing her embroidery. She would have been able to look out of the mullioned windows while she worked, like a medieval princess. It must have seemed like living out a fairy tale dream for those few years they remained there.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Matthew White

On Thursday Steve and I had a meeting with Matthew White to discuss the future of Possessed.

Matt played Topsy in the Oxford Playhouse performance of Possessed. As well as being a fabulous actor and singer Matt is also a director. His production of Little Shop of Horrors which opened at the Chocolate Factory in 2006, transferred to the West End and is now touring regional theatres. He has recently finished a run of Awaking Beauty at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, a musical written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn. Anna Francolini who played Jane in Possessed was also starring in this as well. Above is a photo from the production with Anna as Carabosse and Matt as the Sorceress.

Friday, 6 March 2009

John Sparks

The latest MMD Salon was a wonderful evening devoted to the craft of Musical Book writing, with speaker John Sparks from Chicago. John held us captive with his stories and wonderful advice. He stressed generous collaboration was essential and guarded against being too precious with work, but at the same time knowing when to say no. I had a long chat with him afterwards about Possessed, which he has read and listened to. I also told him that Steve and I were writing a new show and asked his advice about rights and methods of working. It is very different collaborating from the outset of a new show. When I started Possessed I was working alone on the book and lyric ideas before it ever got in front of a composer. This time we have been collaborating from the beginning. He seemed to think this was a much better way to go about things

Monday, 2 March 2009

Sondheim Competition

Steve and I have submitted our four songs from Possessed to the Stephen Sondheim Competition.

Every year students from all the top drama schools compete for the Performer of the Year Award. They perform two songs, one a Sondheim and one from a new musical. MMD submit the best musical songs to the competition, so we have to get chosen by MMD first. The competition is held in a West End Theatre and last year it was at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall. For the writers this is a chance to have your work heard and also to compete for the Stiles and Drewe Best New Song Award. They are featured above in a press photograph by Alastair Muir from last year's competition.

Now we wait until April to find out whether we are through the first round.

Monday, 23 February 2009


MMD invited us all to a fascinating discussion about the rise of small-scale musicals. It was held at Jermyn Street Theatre where the production company Primavera are showing Sondheim's "Saturday Night".

The discussion was conducted by journalist Mark Shenton and included representatives from The Union Theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory, Chris Grady of Musical Theatre Matters, MD/Composer Cathy Jayes and Tom Littler from Primavera's production company.

The tiny theatre was bursting to the seams because so many of the matine audience wanted to stay. The discussion covered the reasons behind the growing trend of smaller productions of musicals, and the implications for audiences and artists of this rapidly developing form in the UK. The most interesting part of the discussion was the growing need for some small Off-West End Theatres, like the Off-Broadway Theatres in New York, which would be able to get new musicals up and running. There is very little scope for learning your craft on the job and everyone agreed that this was the best way to nurture new talent. It has become clear that musicals are not something the Arts Council has really wanted to get involved with and so it is small scale companies like Primavera who are getting musical theatre on. But even they have not ventured into new musical theatre productions. Although I believe they are putting on some workshops during the Saturday Night run.

It was a very good natured and enthusiastic discussion and there was a great feeling of excitement amongst the panel and the audience. It was one of those moments when you felt that people were speaking from their hearts about their passion, and that those listening wanted change. I went off to the pub to continue the talk with Cathy and some of the other people on the panel. It was also good to catch up with Chris Grady.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Essential Songs

In this time of economic crisis it seems best to concentrate on creating new work, and try not to feel daunted. Although this is difficult at times. Steve and I have decided to write four songs for the new musical, and some of the major scenes. The draft structure and background have already been written. Steve is working on the music for the first song and I am on to the lyrics for the second.

The new musical is set in the 1930's which was a golden age for brilliant songs. It is also a strange coincidence that it was also the time of the last massive economic depression and we decided to start writing this show long before the crash. I think people really need music and songs when life is difficult. I have spent a lot of time listening to music from this era and somehow it seems to have seeped into me now and is leaking out in the new lyrics. I don't want this show to be a pastiche of 1930's songs but do feel that there should be a feel of them - which is what we did with Possessed, except it was the 19th Century rather than the 1930's!

It is curious how many 1930's songs got revived and updated in such a way that we have almost lost sight of the fact that they were created so long ago. There is a brilliant Blind Faith (with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) number called My Funny Valentine which I never realised was a 1930's song written by Rogers and Hart. And the Bryan Ferry number "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. This song came from a musical I had never heard of called Roberta, which, curiously enough is based on a book by Alice Duer Miller, an American Suffragette!

The best book of 1930's vocal scores appears to be a book called "Essential Songs - The 1930's" published by Hal Leonard which includes over 90 songs, but I couldn't get it in this country and had to send for a copy from the States. It includes a lot of my real favourites including: Stormy Weather, The Very Thought of You, My Funny Valentine, Georgia on my Mind, In the Still of the Night....oh and so many more!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening has opened to rave reviews at the Lyric Hammersmith. Charles Spencer of the Telegraph said of it: "this is a landmark show which, with a fair wind and a speedy move into the West End, will once again persuade young writers, and more importantly producers, that there is still a place for daring and originality in musical theatre".

Steven Sater, the Book and Lyric writer of Spring Awakening, came to talk to us at a Mercury Musical Developments Salon at the Actors' Centre just before it opened. Steven was exhausted with jet lag but gave us a very honest and insightful history of his work on the show and his background as a writer. Discovering that Spring Awakening had gone through 6 workshops and numerous pitfalls was both vindicating and depressing. But for all the tremendous hard work and tenacity it did all pay off and the show won 8 Tony Awards in the States and was nominated for 11. Steven said that it felt like a Tony for each year they had worked on the show.

When he first brought the musical to London everyone said no to it and producers all said that the music all sounded the same. This was partly because the original recording of the songs was all sung by the same person. But he did manage to get workshops and concert performances of the show in the States and eventually it was Atlantic Theatre Company who took the risk and put it on. Steven said that musical theatre is "a trial by fire" but he was prepared to "re-write endlessly". There were three years when nothing happened to the show and he described this as "the dark I know well"... which is a line in one of his songs. I think it is a phrase all writers know well for those times when they are waiting for something to happen.

He told us that he and the composer had made an important decision about the songs for the musical from the start. They were to act more as the internal dialogue of the characters, advancing the plot but not the action. They didn't want songs that could be spoken and didn't want them to act as recitative in any way. This decision has marked a change in musical theatre. Steven had been a playwright and poet originally but says that he is "in love with song writing now". He told us that he produces the lyrics almost fully formed and then gives them to his composer Duncan Sheik who sets them to music. This method seems to have worked very well for them and now he is able to "support his habit" as he calls it and is working on a number of new shows with his composer.

One piece of advice he gave us which I felt was very important was to have the right director connected to the show early on.

Life has changed for him but the gap between an idea and a new show being staged is always there, the offers come in now for him but it will always be a trial by fire for him and all of us. But I think he has really made a difference and for that I am deeply grateful.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Desperate Romantics

In The Earthly Paradise blog I read that Franny Moyle's book Desperate Romantics is now out. This is the book that the new TV series has been based on. I haven't read the book yet but am certainly rushing to get my copy from Amazon to see what it's all about.

Friday, 2 January 2009

New York Shows

I saw three shows when I was in New York: Spring Awakening, Gypsy and Sondheim's new musical - Road Show.

Spring Awakening, is a musical with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik. It began life at Atlantic Theater Company and ended up a broadway hit with a raft of Tony awards. It is closing on Broadway in a few weeks and is opening at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith on 23rd Janaury with a new British cast. It is a dynamic production and I urge anyone who is interested in new musical theatre to go and see it. Spring Awakening is inspired by Frank Wedekind’s 1891 masterpiece of repressed emotion and adolescent passion. It is about the way adults abuse teenagers, and is as relevant to modern day as it was when it was banned a hundred years ago. The contemporary score has overtones of Madness, spirituals and Tan Dun and is very exciting. The Lyric production is using the same creative team as the New York production. The choreography by Bill T Jones was spectacular and really made the production come alive.

Gypsy was a revival of the 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents. It is based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, and focuses on her mother, Rose, whose name has become synonymous with "the ultimate show business mother." Patti Lupone was brilliantly funny as well as heart wrenching as Rose, Gypsy's mother. The power of her voice and depth of her performance leaves you wondering how she could possibly give so much every night.

Some of the famous show-stoppers from the musical are: “Let Me Entertain You,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” Although you feel that this is an out dated musical it is clear why it remains a classic and will go on and on entertaining audiences.

Road Show had only just opened the day I went to see the musical team at the Public Theatre and so I felt I had to go and see what Mr Sondheim had most recently been turning his hand to. I was really lucky to get what they call "rush" seats for only $20 by queuing up a couple of hours before the performance. The production was directed by our own John Doyle, with his signature single set and inimitable style, although the cast were not playing their own instruments this time. The music and lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim and the book was by John Weidman. Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani are truly magnificent as the leading men in the show. Road Show spans 40 years from the Alaskan Gold Rush to the Florida real estate boom in the ‘30s, Road Show is the story of two brothers whose quest for the American dream turns into a test of morality and judgment that changes their lives in unexpected ways. Road Show explores some of the great American issues: real estate, capitalism and crooks, and feels prophetic, especially because it was written long before the stock market crash.

Most of the other really good musical shows in in New York when I was there were from the UK. I was tempted to go and see Mary Poppins which I didn't get a chance to see here but there just weren't enough days in the end.

Do try and go to the Lyric production of Spring Awakening... I have a feeling that it will do even better over here!