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.
Posted by Teresa Howard at Monday, February 23, 2009
Friday, 6 February 2009
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!
Posted by Teresa Howard at Friday, February 06, 2009
Thursday, 5 February 2009
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.
Posted by Teresa Howard at Thursday, February 05, 2009