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

Monday, 13 December 2010

X Factor - it's all Over!



The X Factor is all over at last.  Although Matt Cardle was the overall winner, history proves that he may not be the most successful of the three finalists.  Rebecca Ferguson and the boy band One Direction are just as likely to become household names.  The final had the biggest viewing figures ever.  I think it has a lot more to do with the Cinderella factor than anything else.  This was a national panto where the painter and decorator and the painfully shy single mum got to be the stars of the show for once.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Youth Music Theatre


On Thursday night at the Actors' Centre the BML Librettists Workshop have a guest speaker - Jon Bromwich, the General Manager of the Youth Music Theatre.  YMT is a national company (with offices in London and Edinburgh) offering wonderful opportunities for young people to stage new music theatre all over the UK. They get the chance to work with some of the most talented and passionate artistic professionals from within the music theatre industry in the UK and around the world.  It promises to be an interesting and informative talk, especially as this company give new musical theatre writers a platform to create large shows for young people.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Best Panto in London



Steve Edis is writing the music  for the Hackney panto Jack and the Beanstalk, which opens to previews on 27th November and the press night is 2nd December. 


As always the panto promises to be a smash-hit Christmas cracker, especially as the great Clive Rowe will be performing as the dame. It is written and directed by Susie McKenna, with music by Steven Edis and design by Lotte Collett.


***** The Best Panto in London The Guardian
Join Jack and the gang for another Hackney Empire extravaganza filled with all your panto favourites. Come and see the singing harp, the golden hen, the giant of all giants and not forgetting Buttercup... the break dancing cow.
***** The Perfect Panto Evening Standard
Packed with spectacle, mayhem, comedy and brilliant music, Hackney Empire's twelfth London pantomime is a must-see this Christmas.


The Invisible Man



On Friday I went to a preview of the Invisible Man, at the Menier Chocolate Factory.  It is adapted from HG Wells classic novel by Ken Hill, directed by Ian Talbot.  Steve Edis wrote the rousing music hall music and is also the MD.  It was a stupendous night of riotous music hall fun with that strange Wells metaphor hovering in the background.  I do urge people to go and see it.  The cast is brilliant, especially the fabulous Maria Friedman who plays Mrs Hall and the hysterically funny Natalie Casey who plays Millie.  The press night is Wednesday 24th November.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Kate Weston and Nick Quinn

After members of the BML Librettists Workshop discovered that I used to be an agent I started getting enquiries about adaptation rights.   I suggested to Neil Marcus at MMD that we should invite some agents to come and share their knowledge with members and the BML.  Tonight I will be interviewing agents Kate Weston from Janet Fillingham Associates and Nick Quinn from The Agency to do just that.   I think it will be a very interesting evening, especially as these two agents handle the work of lyricists, librettists and composers.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Two Temple Place

It looks as if the Pre-Raphaelites are the flavour of the year in 2011.   As well as the extensive exhibition at the V & A there is also another exhibition planned for next October featuring William Morris and his work.

A new gallery to showcase art from the UK regional collections is being created at Lord Astor's old mansion - Two Temple Place.  The beautiful Neo Renaissance style mansion was built in 1895 and is now owned by the Bulldog Trust.  The inaugural show in October 2011 will feature the work of William Morris from the collection at the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, while it closes for refurbishment.  The Gallery at Walthamstow was threatened with closure but managed to gain a £1.5 millian grant from the Lottery Fund towards refurbishment and extension.  David Barrie, the former director of the Art Fund is the curatorial advisor for the Two Temple Place exhibition.  The show will be free

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Chicago Muse


The Chicago Muse has put out a search for new musicals and so I have sent off the libretto and a CD of POSSESSED.

The Chicago Muse, used to be called The Theatre Building Chicago and I first heard about it when John Sparks, who was the Artistic Director, came over to London and did some masterclasses at the Old Vic.  I submitted Possessed in its embryonic form and John was really helpful.  I remember one very specific change I made to the lyrics of a song - it was called "Bitter Sea" and John told me that bitter was both a difficult word to sing and also not a very good emotion to be putting over in a song.  I spent a lot of time thinking about this and the song is now called "Hungry Sea" which fitted perfectly with the imagery that was already inherent in the lyrics.

Chicago Muse have completely changed the structure of the Theatre organisation and opened with a new show called THE STORY OF MY LIFE, a musical by Neil Bartram (music & lyrics) and Brian Hill (book).

John Sparks was not at all happy with the sale of the Theatre to a private investment company and wrote an article about it in the Chicago Time Out earlier in the year.  Here is a link to his piece about it.
http://www3.timeoutny.com/chicago/blog/out-and-about/2010/05/theatre-building-chicagos-former-artistic-director-isnt-happy-with-tbcs-new-direction/

But it looks as if the theatre has re-invented itself and I wish them all the best of luck with it, especially as they are now firmly concentrating on musicals.

The interesting aspect of the decision making process for shows at the theatre now is that once the board have narrowed down the list of scripts that interest them they then give them to the members of the Reading Committee, which is a paid membership program intended to foster the shared involvement of both theatre professionals and patrons. All Chicago Muse members have a voice and are not just subscribers. While subscribers buy, members belong and are able to be a part of the decision making process at the theatre. 


I wonder whether the subscription idea would be a good way to go with regional theatre in the UK, now that the Arts Council are no longer going to be playing much of a part in funding in the future.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Stephen Sondheim at the Festival Hall

It was a rare treat to have had the opportunity to hear Stephen Sondheim in conversation with Jude Kelly at the Festival Hall.  There was a fever of excitement from the packed auditorium as we sat to listen to the words of this funny, endearing and very brilliant man.

Out of the unhappiness of his parents divorce at the age of eleven he discovered a new world with the Hammersteins, a world that changed his, and our lives, for good. He was very clear that although he discusses the work of other songwriters, he does not dish the dirt much and really only says harsh things about himself and people who are dead! He is a very harsh critic of himself, and through his own lyric analysis you discover what it is that really makes a song work.  I left with my signed copy of his book "Finishing the Hat" - his generous words about songwriting to be passed on to us all.

He tells us that there are only three principles necessary for a lyric writer:
Content Dictates Form
Less is More
God is in the Details

and these are all in the service of
Clarity 
without which nothing else matters.

His book is the story of his life through his songs, a scrapbook of pictures and manuscripts, an autobiography, and a detailed analysis of the structure of how songs are made.  I particularly like his notes to us, which are scattered throughout the book, written as the teacher talking to his pupil.  Here is one I rather liked:

"*Curiously enough, rhymes whose endings are spelled differently (for example, "rougher/suffer") are more interesting than those which are spelled the same ("rougher/tougher"), not only to the eye but to the ear, perhaps because the brain subliminally sees them in print and is therefore more surprised when they come along.  "Weary" and "bleary" are a less effective pair than "weary" and "eerie" or even "weary" and "leery," not to mention "weary" and "hara-kiri."

I Capture the Castle Canvas Shopper

I Capture the Castle Canvas Shopper


Now you can even buy bags with Cassandra's opening words from the book - and the musical!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Natalie Casey

Can't wait to see Natalie Casey in the Invisible Man.  For fans of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, here she is as Donna:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iH8QPU3pe24

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Anna Francolini in Onassis

Anna Francolini in rehearsal as Maria Callas in Onassis

The beautiful and talented Anna Francolini is playing Maria Callas in the West End production of Onassis, alongside Robert Lindsey, at the Novello Theatre.  Veronica Schmidt, from the Times said that she gave an "epic performance". Lindsey is playing the Greek self made millionaire, who had a voracious appetite for sex, money and power.  Onassis married Jackie Kennedy and was Maria Callas's lover for many years, reputedly destroying her career and her life.   Onassis is written by Martin Sherman (author of Bent) and is based on the book Nemesis by Peter Evans.  The play was originally called Aristo and began life at the Chichester Festival in 2008 and then did a sell out pre-West End run at Derby Playhouse in September.  It is directed by Nancy Meckler.


"The twentieth century was full of larger than life supermen and superwomen, from the monsters like Hitler to the saints like Mother Teresa. The Greek super-rich have occupied a particular place in this pantheon, and in his time Aristotle Onassis was the richest and most prominent of all, at least in the eyes of the general public. Just as the Russian proverb says that Moscow is “a city without limits’, so the Onassis life seemed to be ‘without limits, in terms of money, sex, power and infinite freedom. Onassis seemed to be able to go where he liked, make money beyond the dreams of avarice, sleep with the most beautiful women and influence world events. These threads all converged in his passion for Jacqueline Kennedy."
- James Pettifer


Anna played Jane Burden, William Morris's wife and Rossetti's lover, in our production of Possessed.   I have enormous respect for her.  Anna is a fine actress, with great sensitivity and a glorious soaring singing voice, although I have a feeling we may not hear her sing in this play, because Maria was having problems with her voice during the time she had her affair with Onassis.

I am going to see the play on 22nd October.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Invisible Man


Steve is working on the music for Ken Hill's play The Invisible Man, based on the novel by H G Wells,  which opens to previews at the Menier Chocolate Factory on 13th November.  The show is being directed by Ian Talbot - who used to be the artistic director of the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park where he produced over 75 productions.  Steve worked on many of these Open Air productions as the musical orchestrator.  The cast includes Olivier award winner Maria Friedman, John Gordon Sinclair, Natalie Casey (star of TV's Two Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crisps as Donna) and Gary Wilmot.

The show will include comedy music hall with magic and illusions by Paul Kieve.  Kieve's previous stage credits include The Lord of the Rings, The Witches of Eastwick and Theatre of Blood.

The show received its premier at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1991.

It sounds amazingly fun - I can't wait to see it!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Birdsong

Tomorrow I am going to watch the last preview of BIRDSONG with Steve. We are bringing the Literary Executor of the Dodie Smith Estate, and his wife, to see the show as well. I am really looking forward to seeing Birdsong, which will be a fascinating example of how you adapt a book, with hundreds of characters, into a play. The choices you have to make when adapting something are vast. Although you have the basic structure of the story before you, what you choose to take from it, and what you create to embellish it, can make or break an adaptation. Collaborating with Steve on those choices, in the early days of adapting I Capture the Castle, was so helpful for me. You can get too precious about certain scenes in the story, which might not help to move the action forward, and collaborating on this before you even start the dialogue really makes an enormous difference.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Cult of Beauty at the V & A

The Blue Silk Dress by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1868)
I learned today that in April 2011 the V & A will be hosting the first ever major exhibition devoted to the "Aesthetic Movement" of the late 19th Century - including a large section devoted to the Pre-Raphaelites.  The exhibition will run until July 2011.  It looks at the artists who placed "beauty" above everything else.  The show will bring together 300 objects, including 60 paintings, to celebrate the British movement that flourished between 1860 and 1900 including works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne Jones.

This emerging interest in the Pre-Raphaelites is very good news for our musical POSSESSED, which tells the story of the love triangle between Jane and William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti during the Aesthetic period.


Stephen Calloway who is the co-curator of the exhibition says that "In times of austerity fantasy always seems to be the thing, but I think it's particularly interesting at the moment because people, I suspect, are becoming rather tired of ugliness and things which are not well made and art that isn't well drawn".   I think he must be remembering William Morris's words "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful".

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Joseph Millson) and Jane Morris (Anna Francolini) at Kelmscott Manor,  in a scene from POSSESSED (Oxford Playhouse)

Friday, 3 September 2010

Adaptation and Biography Rights for Musical Theatre Writers

I seem to have been answering a lot of questions lately about rights.  Having let on to the BML Librettists Workshop that I had been a literary agent in my past life, writers without agents have been turning to me to answer questions about rights.  Many of them don't have an agent, and without one, it is difficult to see your way through the rights forest.  Even with one, you begin to realise nothing is clear cut.  It is hazy, there are no set answers about how much options cost or how you go about securing them for an adaptation or a bio-pic musical.   Musical theatre writers often use films or novels as the basis for a musical, but most of them don't know where to start to get the ball rolling.  When I was an agent this was never something I had much to do with but as a writer I have been involved with two projects where I have had to navigate the  adaptation rights wilderness and it continues.

One thing I learned yesterday -  if there's only one book about a historical character and this is your source material you have to go to the agents representing the book writer for permission.  If you use any quotes from the biography you will have to negotiate a deal with the agents for permission to use those quotes.  You will have to submit your libretto and lyrics to the agent so that they can check it for quotes.  But there is no real answer as to how much that will cost you - a lot depends on how well known both the author and the subject of the book are and how many quotes you use.

In November I am hoping to answer some more important questions about rights and also about getting an agent at MMD, along with agents Nick Quinn from The Agency and Mel Kenyon from Casarotto Ramsay.  It promises to be a very interesting evening.

If anyone reading this blog has any pressing questions about right please forward them to me as a comment and I will put them on my list to ask the agents in November.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Love Story


"What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died?  That she was beautiful and brilliant.  That she loved Mozart and Bach.  The Beatles.  And Me."


I am so delighted that Love Story is going to be transferring from Chichester to the West End, I really loved this innovative, poignant, English musical.  I dashed down to see it in Chichester just before the run ended, and to see my old friend Peter Polycarpou - who was playing Phil, Jenny's father.  His performance was heart-breakingly realistic and I was swept away by that mellifluous Polycarpou singing voice as always.  An enduring image from that evening was in the bar afterwards, when Michael Ball (who had been in the audience) clasped Peter to him in a massive brotherly bear hug.  They had both made their names in Les Miserable and have had a long history in musical theatre since then.   I have now discovered that this had been a very auspicious night for Michael Ball, because he has decided to make Love Story his debut show as a West End producer.

Love Story, the musical, is inspired by Erich Segal's iconic novel and one of the all time most romantic films of the 70's, directed by Arthur Hiller, starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal.  The musical is composed by Howard Goodall, with book and lyrics by Stephen Clark and additional lyrics by Howard Goodall.  It ran at the Minerva in Chichester from 29th May to 26th June 2010 and was directed by Birmingham Rep.'s artistic director Rachel Kavanaugh.

The libretto has been beautifully written by Stephen Clark and is not in the least bit sentimental, although I defy you not to shed a tear.  Look out for the brilliant Pasta Song - my favourite in the show!

It opens at the Duchess Theatre on 27th November.  If you click on the link on the title of this blog it will take you through to the website to buy tickets.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Rogers and Hammerstein at the Proms

The Proms are certainly paying homage to the American Musical this year.  Last night was the turn of Rogers and Hammerstein's wonderful shows, including Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and the Sound of Music.  The vocalists were Kim Criswell, Anna-Jane Casey, Julian Ovenden, Sierra Bogges and Rod Gilfry with the Maida Vale Singers and the John Wilson orchestra, conducted by John Wilson.  These classic songs and rousing music have stood the test of time, speak to us all of our dreams and heart break.  My favourite song of all is from Carousel, that strange dark musical - "If I loved You".

Below is a Utube clip from the 1956 film of Carousel with Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Birdsong


Trevor Nunn's production of BIRDSONG opens on 18th September in the West End at the Comedy Theatre.  It is based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks and is adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff.
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Music by Steven Edis
Design by John Napier

The cast includes Ben Barnes as Stephen Wraysford,  Nicholas Farrell as Rene Azaire,  Genevieve O'Reilly as Isabelle Azaire and Zoe Waites as Jeanne Fourmentier.
Ben Barnes


The play tells the story of one man's journey through an all consuming love affair and into the horror of the First World War.


While staying as the guest of a factory owner in pre-First World War France, Stephen Wraysford embarks on a passionate affair with Isabelle, the wife of his host. The affair changes them both for ever. A few years later Stephen finds himself back in the same part of France, but this time as a soldier at the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest encounter in British military history. As his men die around him, Stephen turns to his enduring love for Isabelle for the strength to continue and to save something for future generations.


It promises to be a very exciting production, with a great cast and creative team

Monday, 16 August 2010

A Day at Dodie Smith's home

Steve and I went to visit Dodie Smith's Literary Executor, who lives in her home in Finchingfield.   Steve had not been able to come to the plaque unveiling and so we were kindly invited down to watch a film about Dodie's life and have lunch, talk about our hopes for the show and listen to stories about her life.  It was a really fascinating and exciting day!  The film about her life was excellent and it was wonderful to actually see her on film at last.  Her home, The Barretts, is a large and extremely pretty thatched cottage, sitting outside the exquisite village of Finchingfield.

It was clear how much Dodie must have missed this beautiful part of Essex, while she lived in America and wrote I Capture the Castle.   While she was in America, the West End theatre manager and producer Binkie Beaumont, went to live at the Barretts.  He was the most famous theatre empresario of the time and produced many of her plays.

Walking up the lane to the house from Finchingfield brought home to me the sense of unworldliness that she must have experienced in that part of England, after the hurly burly of life in London - which she translates into the early parts of Cassandra's diary.  Finchingfield is the perfect English village - with its windmill, duck pond and little cottages bursting with lupins and monks hood, nestled round the village green.

We were shown a painting of Wingfield Castle, with the old house built into the remains of the castellated Medieval castle walls, the tower and the moat.  This had been her inspiration for Cassandra's castle.  I had always wondered what the significance of setting the book in 1934 had been - when it was written in the 1940's.  We were told that 1934 had been the year she had moved into her home at The Barretts, and so can only presume that this special date was connected to her life there.

At the end of the day we were presented with copies of Dodie's books - The Town in Bloom for me and The Girl in the Candlelit Bath for Steve.  We returned to London on the train, leaving Dodie's retreat far behind, but feeling sure we would be back there one day.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Sondheim at the Proms

Last night I watched the spectacular Prom celebration of Stephen Sondheim's work - a salute to him on his 80th birthday.    David Charles Abell conducted the BBC Symphony orchestra.  The lead singers were Dame Judi Dench, Maria Friedman, Simon Russell Beale, Bryn Terfel, Daniel Evans, Julian Ovenden, Caroline O'Connor and Jenna Russell.  They sang Sondheim's songs written between 1962 and 1987 - from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Little Night Music, Company, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and many more.  Dame Judi Dench completely stole the show with her impeccable performance of Send in the Clowns.

Anna Francolini, who played Jane Morris in Possessed was there, looking and sounding so beautiful.  Three of the Royal Academy of Music Post graduates who appeared in the Concert Reading of I Capture the Castle, were also there: Terri O'Ryan, Ross Barnes and Tom Little.

The whole of the Albert Hall Audience stood to applaud Sondheim after the last number.  I have been to many proms, but I have never seen anything like this - it really gripped the heart.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

I Capture the Castle - Concert Reading

On 11th July we had our Concert Reading of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE at the Royal Academy of Music, directed by Karen Rabinowitz, with a cast from the Post Graduate Musical Theatre course.  As the opening bars of the first song came, I was there, in the Castle kitchen with the rain pouring down outside and Cassandra sitting writing her diary on the sink.  As soon as the laughter came I breathed an internal sigh of relief - it was working!  The pace was terrific and the cast were wonderful - the characters they had molded through the workshop got the pay off they deserved - with laughter and emotional response from the audience.  It was an incredibly exciting afternoon.  All the work that the director and actors had put in really brought the musical to life.  The song we had moved from the first half to the middle of the second act, really worked in its new place, and the reprise of the first song, that we hurriedly wrote in rehearsals to end the show, left a lot of the audience in tears by the end - so we have decided that it must stay!

The feedback we have had from the audience has been been very positive and now Steve and I can both see far more clearly what we need to do to get it to the next stage.

The cast:
Suzanna Kempner - Cassandra
Phillipa Cookman - Rose
Terri O'Ryan - Topaz
Matthew Johnson - Stephen
James Meunier - James Mortmain
Ross Barnes - Simon
Tom Little - Neil
Becky Moult - Mrs Cotton
Stephen Sutherland - Swann

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Concert Reading at the Royal Academy of Music

Tomorrow we have our Concert Reading at the Royal Academy of Music.  It has been a very exciting week watching the musical grow.  I have been writing and cutting dialogue at a furious pace, songs have been moved and pulled around to make them work better.  We had no song for the end of the show so I wrote a reprise for it last night - we all felt it really had to end on a song.  Steve created a harmony structure for it, in what seemed like a matter of minutes, and it was wonderful to watch the cast bring it to life.

Karen Rabinowitz, the director, is the Musical Theatre Course Leader, at the Academy.  She has been amazing with the cast  and a complete joy to work with.   The cast have worked incredibly hard and it has come such a long way since those hopeful beginnings in January when we presented them with just a couple of scenes to work on.    Today the emotion was really beginning to flow as they worked their way through the run and at last I could see it all coming together.  It is a wonderful story to work with and our take on it has been very different from the film.  Tomorrow, it will be very interesting to see the audience reaction.  We have still got a long way to go but bit by bit we are putting it together... that's what counts!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Dear Dodie by Valerie Grove

Valerie Grove's excellent biography of Dodie Smith, DEAR DODIE,  was published in 1996 by Chatto and Windus, and is a great read for anyone interested in Dodie's fascinating life - from failed actress to the highest paid playwright in London and then on to author 101 Dalmatians which Walt Disney made into a smash hit animation.   She is an interesting and complicated woman!

Miss Grove has recently brought out a new biography about the life of Kaye Webb, who started up the Puffin Club and changed the face of children's literature, called SO MUCH TO TELL.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

I CAPTURE THE CASTLE - the Film

In 2003 Tim Fywell directed a film version of Dodie Smith's I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, produced by David Parfitt the producer of Shakespeare In Love.  It starred Romola Garai as Cassandra and Bill Nighy (as her father James), Tara Fitzgerald as Topaz and Sinead Cusack as Mrs Cotton.  The screenplay was by Heidi Thomas.  There is a trailer of the film on Youtube which you can watch if you click on this link.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Karen Rabinowitz

On Friday I had a meeting with Karen Rabinowitz, the course leader of the Musical Theatre Post Grad. course at the Royal Academy.  Karen is directing the workshops and reading of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE in July.   It was a constructive meeting to discuss both my concerns about the libretto and her ideas for the reading.  We talked a great deal about what each character wants, whether they get it and why.  I am concerned that the characters of Neil and Simon should be deeper than in both the book and the film and we discussed their back stories and discovered that we had arrived at ideas about their history, which were very similar.


Karen Rabinowitz’s professional work has ranged from directing plays and musicals in the theatre, to staging and choreographing operas, musicals and revues. She also coaches singers and actors in specific roles, and her work has taken her to the Royal National Theatre, Opera North, Scottish Opera, TV and many repertory companies. She has taught at several London drama schools, and gives workshops and short courses in several European countries and the USA.  Steve and I are really looking forward to working with her.

Monday, 14 June 2010

I CAPTURE THE CASTLE

Our new show - I CAPTURE THE CASTLE - is based on the book by Dodie Smith, author of 101 Dalmatians. There was a film made of the book in 2003, directed by Tim Fywell with Romola Garai as Cassandra and Bill Nighy as her eccentric father James.

We had a reading of the first draft of the libretto in June 2009 with a cast including some wonderful young actors from RADA and Arts Ed. The cast were: Paris Arrowsmith, Amanda Carlton, Mark Edel-Hunt, Frances Knox, Lottie Latham, Antony Mason, Alice Rowell and Richard Southgate - who was hot foot from the closing of Spring Awakening. The reading went really well and it was exciting to realise that this show has a lot of humour!

We then started writing the songs and got a date for some workshops at the Royal Academy of Music in January 2010 through Mercury Musical Development. We decided that because the novel is set in 1934 there would be a 1930's feel to all the music and songs - with tango, beguine, swing and a hint of Cole Porter.

The Royal Academy of Music workshops were with students from the Post Graduate Musical Theatre degree: Phillipa Cookman, Suzanna Kempner, Matthew Johnson, Paul Allison, Terri O'Ryan, Ross Barnes, Tom Little, Becky Moult, Alex Young and Stephen Sutherland. It was an exciting few days and Steve and I managed to write an new opening song, which I heard sung for the first time by Suzanna Kempner - who played Cassandra.

After the workshop we recorded the first three songs of the show at Lynwood Studios with Suzanna Kempner and Peter Polycapou.

After the RAM workshops went so well we were asked back to do more workshops on the show in July and the course leader Karen Rabinowitz offered to direct. We are doing a private reading of I Capture the Castle at the Royal Academy for producers on 11th July.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Sam Buntrock and Chris Walker

Last week Mercury held another of their wonderful Lionel Bart Memorial masterclasses, this time it was with Sam Buntrock and Chris Walker.

Sam is an energetic and exciting director, who I first heard about when he directed Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George at the Meniere Chocolate Factory in 2006. Among his many credits he has also directed Take Flight and Assassins and has a particular fascination for using animation in theatre.

Chris Walker, talked about his experiences as a West End and Broadway Musical Theatre composer, MD and orchestrator - working on shows like My Fair Lady for Cameron Mackintosh, Cabaret, My Girl, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Old Vic Aladdin.

They gave their opinion on three MMD songs, which was very interesting, especially to hear both a directorial and musical slant on the work.

I really liked a lot of what Sam Buntrock said, especially "I don't like musicals!" He is more interested in musical theatre that flouts the conventions - so am I! But as Chris Walker wisely said - you have to know the conventions before you defy them!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Songwriters Rhyming Dictionary

I have discovered a wonderful new rhyming dictionary - Sammy Cahn's The Songwriters Rhyming Dictionary. It has some of the attributes of the invaluable Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary but is much simpler and totally wonderful! I also use the Penguin Rhyming Dictionary but this is not as useful for lyric writing. Apparently the Collins is also very good so I will have to have a look out for that next time I am in a bookshop and see whether it is any more helpful. I prefer to find rhymes myself but when I'm really stuck it is fantastic to have a really good source to turn to. Often, before I really get going with a song I make lists of rhymes which I think will be useful. But I think that the real art of using rhyme in songs is to make them unobstrusive, so that you hardly even notice that the song has rhymes at all.

Impossible Stories with Jack Bradley

I have signed up to Jack Bradley's workshop in June at the Nightingale Theatre in Brighton. It is entitled 'Impossible Stories - adventures in narrative, story and structure', and is a practical workshop exploring love stories and how to tell them. With love stories as the central focus of everything I have ever written I knew it was something I had to do.

Jack Bradley is the Literary Associate to Sonia Friedman Productions, and I met him when he came to see the open dress of our musical Possessed at the Arts Theatre, just before it went to Oxford Playhouse. He is a very clever, approachable man and I am sure I will learn a great deal from him - I can't wait!

Election Night at the BML Librettists Workshop

On May 6th, while the votes were piling in, I was at the Actors Centre in Covent Garden presenting my three page scene for the BML Librettists Workshop. The scene was the latest assignment, and one which I had broached with some trepidation. It was going to be my first piece of dialogue to be shown to the group and I really wanted it to be good. I did not feel I wanted to present something from the new show and so I spent a lot of time trying to decide what I was going to do.

The new show is an adaptation and so I thought I could use another book to adapt into a musical scene. I chose Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. It seemed to be absolutely perfect material for a musical adaptation with the music hall scenes, the powerful relationships, longing and big fabulous characters.

I chose the scene in the book where Nancy first sees Kitty performing her act on stage as a "Masher" (male impersonator). This was a scene of transformation, so sensitive and beautiful that it was made for the stage. I visualised it musically as a mixture of music hall singing from Kitty and a song from the heart from Nancy. I didn't write Nancy's song, but wrote her internal monologue but allowed the listeners to know that this could be translated into a song.

Once I had written it I knew I had to find out whether the rights in the book were available. I am waiting to hear about that. For although I am totally caught up with the new show, this would be a wonderful project for the future. I am waiting and hoping.

The reading seemed to go pretty well and the response was so interesting, and sparked off a lot of fascinating conversation. Everyone thought that it was definitely a good subject for a musical. Over drinks later at the Phoenix Club I felt such a sense of relief that I had got through the trial by fire, and managed somehow to pull it off. I arrived home and switched on the TV to discover that the country was in turmoil over the election results. None of the parties had got what they wanted but maybe something new and interesting will come out of it all.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Two New Songs

Things are moving on with the new show. Steve and I have now got the music and lyrics for two new songs! We had a really good session last week and Steve recorded what we had done so far. I am sorting out a few additional lyrics to complete them at the moment.

I am trying to get as much done as possible, before our Royal Academy workshop in July.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Conor Mitchell and the Art of Lyrics

Tonight I am off to an MMD Masterclass to hear all about Connor Mitchell's advice on lyric writing. With my new song hot off the laptop it will be interesting to hear what he thinks about this strange and ancient craft.

Conor Mitchell is a musical dramatist from Co.Armagh, Ireland. His musical plays include THE DUMMY TREE (NT Connections), THE YOUNG PORNOGRAPHER'S WIFE, THE MUSICIAN, MERRY CHRISTMAS BETTY FORD, DIARY OF A MADMAN, TODD, LETTERS TO AN ABSENT OTHER and MATHILDE. As composer/lyricist: HAVE A NICE LIFE (Best Score, New York Musical Theatre Festival, 2006), MISSING MEL. As composer: GOBLIN MARKET, PESACH, the award-winning film opera PRETTY FACE and over 40 other theatre scores. He written for the Ulster Youth Orchestra, been writer on attachment to the National Theatre Studio, writer in residence at LAMDA, music advisor to Youth Music Theatre: UK and winner of the Arts Foundation Fellowship for musical theatre composition. He is under commission from Ransom Theatre Co., Library Theatre Manchester, LAMDA, University of Gotenberg, Nice People Theatre Co. Philadelphia and Cahoots NI at present. He is also writing a one man show, CYCLE OF TRIFLES for Nigel Richards.

New Song

I've been working on a song for the new show. It has had to sit on the back burner for about a month while I have been doing other things, but I've never stopped thinking about it and jotting things down. After doing a new version of the book it suddenly all seemed much clearer where it was going. In the end it only took two days to write. I finished it yesterday and sent it off to Steve, who really liked it. The musical is an adaptation, but the sex of one of the characters has been changed, and this song is for him. Suddenly, with his own song, he has become a far more rounded character and I am looking forward to writing the reprise of this song later in the show.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Jerwood Opera Writing Programme

I posted off my application to the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme at Aldeburgh. In 2007, Aldeburgh Music and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation launched the Programme, designed for composers, writers and directors who want to widen their horizons and equip themselves to create contemporary work combining music, theatre and text. It is led by Giorgio Battistelli, along with other teachers including: Harrison Birtwistle, Alison Chitty, Lavinia Greenlaw, Stephen Plaice, and Stephen Langridge, and culminates in mini music theatre works created by the participants.

I think it would be a very exciting experience, and so am really hoping they accept me.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

July at the Royal Academy of Music

Karen Rabinowitz, Head of the Post Graduate Musical Theatre Degree at the Royal Academy of Music, is going to be directing a workshop week of our new show in July at the Academy. The dates have now been confirmed and so we have a new deadline to work towards. We are hoping to use as many of the Post Grads who worked with us in January as we can. It is wonderful for the Academy to be supporting us in this way, and so fortunate to be working with Karen and the musical theatre stars of tomorrow. This will be a period of development, working on the the libretto and weaving a few more songs into the book. This is particularly important for the comedy element of the new show, to find out whether things work and try out new stuff. We are both very excited about it!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Matthew White's Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity is transferring from the Meniere Chocolate Factory to the Theatre Royal Haymarket. It is directed by Matthew White, who played the part of Topsy (William Morris) in the Oxford performance of our musical play POSSESSED. Matthew also directed the award winning version of Little Shop of Horrors, starring Legally Blonde - Sheridan Smith.

Sondheim Competition

Our song HOLD STILL from POSSESSED has been shortlisted for the Steven Sondheim Performer of the Year competition. We are now waiting to hear whether it has been selected as a finalist.

This competition, which is organised by the Sondheim Society, will take place in front of a public audience and a professional judging panel at the Queens Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, on Sun 6 June 2010. Students from the principal music colleges will be invited to enter the competition and will perform two songs each - one by Stephen Sondheim and one by a new musical writer.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Paris

The USA dialogue session with Paris, for the new show, was really constructive. Three of the characters are American, but they are all very different characters with different accents. We managed to go through all the dialogue in a very intense and immensely fun and rewarding session. Paris made really useful and interesting suggestions for changes, based not only on his knowledge of the vernacular but also his acting experience, which, for me as a writer, was absolutely wonderful.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

USA from Paris

Tomorrow I am meeting up with RADA graduate, Paris Arrowsmith, to work on the American dialogue in our new show. Paris read one of the lead parts in the first reading of the musical and later went on to work with Steve in INHERIT THE WIND at the Old Vic. Paris is part Bostonian, which is perfect for the US dialogue in the show.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Royal Academy of Music Showcase

Last week Steve and I were invited to the Post Graduate Musical Theatre Students show case at the Royal Academy. It was a spectacular show directed by Mary Hammond and Karen Rabinowitz. All the students were given the chance to show off their best both as soloists and ensemble, dancing and singing to an audience of agents, producers and guests. Steve and I were particularly excited to see the students who had worked on the development of our new show with us in January: Paul Allison, Ross Barnes, Phillipa Cookman, Matthew Crowe, Suzanna Kempner, Tom Little, Steven MacGillvray, Becky Moult, Terri O'Ryan and Alex Young. It was a chance to see the students in action and also to catch up with them during drinks afterwards.

They will also be performing in two shows from 22nd to 27th June: Assassins and A Little Night Music.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

BBC premier The Earthly Paradise at the Barbican

On 10th April the BBC Symphony Orchestra is presenting the world premiere of The Earthly Paradise, at the Barbican. It is a setting of prose, poetry and sayings by William Morris composed by Ian McQueen, with Sir Andrew Davis, conducting.

The search for the land where "none grow old" guides the twists and turns of William Morris's The Earthly Paradise. Ian McQueen's new work for chorus and large orchestra evokes the extraordinary world of the poet, surges with erotic charge and conjures up Morris's magical vision of Iceland's landscape and sagas.

While researching Morris's life for Possessed I read some of his Earthly Paradise. He was writing it while Jane and Rossetti were having their affair and poured his fears and longings into it.

An earlier draft of this post said that the performance had taken place on 10th March, which was information I received from the William Morris Society Website, so I will let them know that they have the date wrong. The concert also includes Elgar's 'In the South' and Jennifer Pike will be will be applying her special artistry to Mendelssohn's 'violin concerto in e minor'. I am very pleased that the concert hasn't passed after all and will definitely be going!

William Morris the Marxist

I went to see Love & Madness's devised play about William Morris last night, and although I do think there does need to be a very interesting play written about Morris's political life - this play was not the one.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Demi Monde

On Wednesday I am going to see Demi-Monde at Riverside Studios. This is a play devised by the theatre company Love&madness in collaboration with playwright Jack Shepherd. It is about William Morris. If you click on the title above it will take you to a link for the Riverside Studios site. It will be interesting to see how a team of creatives have dealt with the story we explore in our musical POSSESSED. I have a feeling this play focuses more on Morris's ideals and beliefs than his emotional life but will report further after I have seen it.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

London Assurance

Last night I went to see a preview of London Assurance at the National Theatre, with Steve. I haven't laughed so much at the theatre since the Hackney panto! The play is by Dion Boucicault and was first performed in 1841. It stars Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw and Richard Briars. There is a lovely interview with Richard Briars, in the Times by Valerie Grove. There was much hilarity in the Green Room Bar discussing the problems of the mechanical rat, but at least it won't bite anyone - like the "real" monkey in Inherit the Wind!

Friday, 5 March 2010

John Caird and Gareth Valentine Masterclass

This evening Mercury Musical Developments hosted the Lionel Bart Memorial Masterclass with guest speakers John Caird and Gareth Valentine. Some MMD writers also presented some of their songs for them to discuss and offer suggestions for improvement.

I was surprised to discover that a lot of musical theatre composers don't really write dots and that it is often left up to the MD to do this. Steve's ability to compose, arrange and write dots means that he has a lot more control over the music than a lot of other musical composers. Trusting his experience and brilliance I am rather glad about this.

There was quite a lot of discussion about what the difference is between a musical and an opera. John Caird said that "operas are written by composers", and I suppose it is true that we all remember the composers of operas but hardly anyone takes any notice of who wrote the vocal score. Everyone knows that Wagner wrote Tristan and Isolda but who really knows Richard Kleinmichel. Whereas the creators of musicals usually come in pairs eg Kander (composer) and Ebb (lyricist). One main difference seems to be that in musical theatre songs can be changed to different keys to suit the actors but that this doesn't happen in opera, probably because the music is treated in a more reverent way. Use of dialogue does not seem to be a difference because there is dialogue in quite a lot of operas. I was still none the wiser so John told me to read his book, which I will. But he told us not to take any notice of the labels and just write what we want to write.

John said that he could usually tell if a musical was any good if the titles of the songs were cliched. Although thinking back to well known musicals I know there are still some great cliches among them. Gareth said that music "should underline the intent" of the characters and should also be the "servant of the text" - this second statement would certainly be different for opera.

An interesting thought came through from John Caird about lying. He said that it was possible for a character to lie in song as long as it was to the other characters. But if they are addressing the song to the audience it should be the inner truth of the character. He also said that "direct address" was something that musical theatre does very well and cannot be done well in films. He also spoke about rhyming, and how the more a song rhymes the more likely it is to be comic. Thinking about Possessed this happened to some extent without me realising. Bessy and Mr Carters songs had the tight rhyme schemes, whereas Janey who carried the tragic weight of the show used far less rhyme. In fact in Hold Still, the final song, there are only a few lines which rhyme. But this was not a conscious decision for me.

One thing John Caird said was why I really started to write a musical in the first place - "music is the underlying feeling and thought that is too deep for words."

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Clive Paget

In my quest to get feedback on the new show I emailed my old mentor and director from 'Possessed', Clive Paget. Clive now lives in Sydney, Australia. It was very good to feel connected to him again even though he lives so far away and he has agreed to read the book and listen to the new songs. He hasn't read the novel that the musical is adapted from, but perhaps this is a good thing, on first reading, because his judgement of the show, as a musical standing on its own, won't be clouded by the foreknowledge of the book.

Before Clive went off to work in Australia he was the Musical Theatre Consultant at the National Theatre, providing a link between the National Theatre Studio and Greenwich Theatre, where our first showing of 'Possessed' was staged.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Librettists Workshop

I have joined the Librettists Workshop, which runs throughout the Spring at the Actors Centre. It is being funded by the Really Useful Group, the Arts Council and MMD. The group is being run along the lines of the BMI Lehman Engel workshop in New York and for this season it is focusing on form, structure and characterisation. Later we hope to use the group as feedback on work in progress.

There was a really eclectic mix of people in the group, from all areas in the musical theatre scene. There were also producers and artistic directors, hoping themselves to find out more about the craft of the librettist.

I left with a copy of the libretto of West Side Story under my arm, for a first assignment in deconstruction. The most important words I carried away with me were:

The leading character must be active and not passive
There should be a sense of unity in the "world" of the show
The ticking clock - where a character has to achieve something in a certain time builds tension
The leading character has to fanatically want something tangible and non-tangible and we have to be routing for them more than in a stage play
We need to see through the eyes of the characters

I think I knew all these things but it is good to be reminded about them, especially in the middle of writing something new. It is very easy to get lost in the world of your own book and essential to stand outside, look at it with fresh eyes and say "am I doing all the right things dramatically".

Monday, 15 February 2010

Peter Polycarpou

Steve and I have arranged for a recording of the first few songs of the new show on 2nd March. Peter Polycarpou has managed to find some time in his very busy schedule to sing for us. He played the part of Topsy (William Morris) in the Greenwich Theatre showcase of our musical play Possessed. Peter is fantastic to work with on a new show, having created a lot of musical theatre roles in the past. He gives so much in the workshop/rehearsal process and is such a positive person to work with. We have known each other for so many years, it will be lovely to see him again and catch up.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Too Late!

Sadly, the submission date for the NMN Haiti Appeal show has long passed and although they really liked Hold Still, they felt it would be unfair to others if we were included - totally understand this and really hope the show goes well.

Monday, 8 February 2010

SNAPPY TITLE

New Musicals Network to launch with charity cabaret Snappy Title, a charity cabaret evening featuring West End performers, will launch the website of New Musicals Network on Sunday 20th September at the Pigalle Club, Piccadilly. The evening, which will showcase songs from new musicals, will be compered by songwriters George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The eleven artists lined up include current and former cast members of shows such as Wicked, We Will Rock You, Avenue Q, Les Misérables, Dirty Dancing and Spring Awakening. All artists appear subject to work commitments. This event takes place at the Pigalle Club, Piccadilly.

I have submitted one of the songs from Possessed "Hold Still" to NMN to see whether they would like to include it in the show and have now joined NMN.

Friday, 5 February 2010

RECORDING NEW SONGS

Steve and I are booking a recording session at Lynwood Studios for some of the songs for the new show, including the title number which we wrote while working at the Academy.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Walter Van Dyk at Kings Place

Walter van Dyk, who played Gabriel in our showcase of Possessed at Greenich Theatre, is appearing at Kings Place with the Dante Quartet on 19th February at 7.45.

This wonderful new music and art venue is transforming King's Cross.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Royal Academy of Music Workshop

Steve and I have been doing some development workshops on our new show (title to be released at a later date) at the Royal Academy of Music with postgraduate students: Paul Allison, Ross Barnes, Phillipa Cookman, Matthew Johnson, Suzanna Kempner, Tom Little, Becky Moult, Terri O'Brien, Stephen Sutherland and Alex Young.

We planned to concentrate on the first scene, including the title song, which is reprised throughout the show. This song is crucial to the show and needed a short simple lyric and melody which could be easily recognised in later scenes, but also needed a strong emotional drive in the middle section that would excite the audience and make them really connect with the main character. We also wanted to test out changing the sex of one of the characters from a woman to a man in later scenes.

At the outset we had a draft of the first scene, which had been tried out in a reading last June, some lyrics, some music and a sketched plan of where in the scene the song would be broken up into.

With fantastic feedback from the students and a week to do re writes and create the rest of the song music we have now come up with a first scene that got laughs, tells who everyone is and sets up the beginning of the crisis, which will steadily unfold.

In trying to find out whether it would work to swop one of the smaller roles from a woman to a man the students read the two scenes she appears in both as a woman and as a man. They then discussed this exchange and what it meant both in the musical and for them as an audience. We decided to bravely make the swop.

I hadn't heard any of Steve's music for the opening song until he played it in the rehearsal room, which was very exciting! After only a couple of rehearsals Suz sang it in her clear, beautiful voice - everyone was captivated. After playing around with where to divide up the song in the scene, the final division I chose seemed to work. As they were reading Steve also improvised where to put music under dialogue, setting up a convention to use for the rest of the show.

Something else that came out of the first weeks workshop was a stronger visual imagery for me and I invented a convention to make the band more integral as well as a projection idea which would make set changes easier. Hearing the musical read repeatedly by the students had helped it to come alive in a way that reading it out to myself at my desk could never achieve.

At the end of the workshop we had a final read through of the new draft of the first scene with Suz singing her solo. It was a great moment because the students could see where their collaboration had improved the scene, and we had that so essential feedback for the work we were doing.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Royal Academy of Music


Steve and I are doing some development workshops on our new show at the Royal Academy of Music, starting this Friday. I have been busily working on the opening number lyrics in preparation for this.