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, 28 February 2011

The April Revue

Our song Hungry Sea from the musical POSSESSED has been chosen to be included in the international collection of songs from new musicals by A STAGE KINDLY.  The revue is being performed at the Kings Head Theatre and The Space in April.  We are not sure which venue our song will be performed at yet but will put up more information when we find out.

Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year

Haydn Gwynne
Every year the Sondheim Society hold a Student Performer of the Year competition in a West End Theatre.   This year it will be held at the Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, on Sunday 22nd May and will be hosted by Haydn Gwynne.

Haydn Gwynne played Mrs Winkinson in the musical Billy Elliot, for which she won an Olivier Award in the UK.  On Broadway she was also lauded for this role and won the Outer Critics Circle Award, Theatre World Award, Drama Desk Award and was nominated for a Tony in 2009.

For the Sondheim Performer of the Year Award every musical Theatre course in the UK chooses their best pupils to enter the competition, singing one song by Stephen Sondheim and a new musical song by a member of MMD.

The award winning musical writers George Styles and Anthony Drew award a prize for the best new MMD musical song in the competition.

Last year Steve and I had one of our songs from POSSESSED shortlisted (Hold Still) and this year we are entering two songs from I CAPTURE THE CASTLE.   The competition is stiff because we are up against well known musical writers like Tim Minchin and Conor Mitchell, who are members of MMD, but we have to try.  Even getting a song through the competition to be performed would be fantastic!

Monday, 21 February 2011

O Moon of Alabama - A Kurt Weill Cabaret

Last night I went to a Kurt Weill Cabaret starring Walter van Dyk and Liza Sadovy, at the Kings Head.

Walter is currently performing in A Flea in her Ear at the Old Vic and performed in the first showcase of our musical Possessed, at Greenwich Theatre.  His co-star Liza Sadovy has just returned from the hit Broadway transfer of La Bete, playing alongside Joanna Lumley and Mark Rylance.

The cabaret played to a packed house at the Kings Head.  Walter and Liza completely embodied the world of Kurt Weill - the sensual seediness and fading glamour, the heartbreak and passion, that his beautiful evocative music conjures up.  With such seasoned and brilliant actors this was no ordinary cabaret - the connection between the two singers was bewitchingly acted in every song.  I particularly loved the way they performed some of the songs in German so that we got the pure feel of the lyrics - which can never be perfectly translated into English and get quite the same resonance.  Both Walter and Liza have wonderful versatile singing voices, perfectly pitched for Kurt Weill's unusual harmonies and aching melody.

The show ended with a standing ovation and afterwards the bar was heaving with the great and good of the theatre world - including Joanna Lumley, Ron Cook (who has been starring as the Fool to Derek Jacobi's Lear at the Donmar Warehouse) and many of the cast of A Flea in Her Ear.

It was a really wonderful evening!

O Moon of Alabama: A Kurt Weill Cabaret at the Young Vic

Sadly I don't have a recording of Lisa Sadovy and Walter van Dyk singing any of their Kurt Weill Cabaret, but her are some pictures from their show at the Young Vic and a lovely old recording of Moon of Alabama.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Imperfect or Perfect Rhymes?

Lately I have found myself in the midst of discussions about rhyming with my musical theatre friends.  Should an imperfect rhyme be used?  Why be obsessed with perfect rhyming when the meaning is all important?  After arguing against perfect rhyming one lyricist sang the first verse of his song and it was clear that it was not an imperfect rhyme he was using, but assonance, "that's OK!" we replied, assonance is good.  He was very relieved!

The great Mr Sondheim has this to say about imperfect rhyming:

"True rhyming is a necessity in the theatre, as a guide for the ear to know what it has just heard.  Our language is so complex and difficult, and there are so many similar words and sounds that mean different things, that it's confusing enough without using near rhymes that only acquaint the ear with a vowel... [A near rhyme is] not useful to the primary purpose of a lyric, which is to be heard, and it teaches the ear to not trust or to disregard a lyric, to not listen, to simply wash over you."

Emily Dickinson was fond of near rhymes:

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without words
And never stops at all"

Poetry is not the same as the lyric of a song, it goes to a different place in the brain... a lyric has to sing out and also thrust itself home, so that we know and understand the words.  I have a feeling Mr Sondheim is right.  It is difficult, it does take hours trying to find the right rhyme sometimes, but I don't think that this stops us having freedom of expression - limitations have a freedom in themselves.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Julia MacKenzie at MMD

Julia MacKenzie

After the AGM, Mercury Musical Developments invited Julia MacKenzie to take a Sondheim Masterclass with Royal Academy of Music Students.    Known well for her role in the TV series Miss Marple, we must not forget that this multi-talented performer was one of Sondheim's favourite musical theatre performers, who brought to life the character of Mrs Lovett in the National Theatre's Sweeney Todd, for which she was awarded and Olivier for Best Actress in 1994.  Among her many gongs was also an Olivier Award for her performance as Best Actress in Guys and Dolls in 1983, London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actress in Woman in Mind and a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in Side by Side by Sondheim in 1977.

Karen Rabinowitz,  the Course Leader of the Post Graduate Musical Theatre Course at RAM, sat with the students.  She was the director of our I Capture the Castle showcase last summer and it was lovely to catch up with her and let her know the good news about the show.

It was a rare treat to watch Julia MacKenzie, this mistress of the Sondheim musical, put these young and very talented singers through their paces.   Their response to her direction was a lesson in itself for many of the Mercury Writers, who seemed surprised at how maleable they were and how brilliant they were at re-interpreting a song after she had explained more clearly the impulse behind it. It was difficult to hold back the delighted laughter as we watched glimpses of her Mrs Lovett seeping out through her direction of By The Sea and I am sure I wasn't the only one who longed to hear her sing it for us.  Below is  a You Tube video of Julia singing The Worst Pies in London in the National Theatre Production of Sweeney Todd - sadly I couldn't find By The Sea.

The star performer of the evening was Alex Young, winner of the Sondheim Award last year.  Alex played the part of Leda in out first I Capture the Castle Workshop at RAM and is definitely someone to watch.  

Sweeney Todd - London National Theatre Cast

Sunday, 13 February 2011

London in the 1930's

In order to really get the feel of the 1930's in our new show I CAPTURE THE CASTLE I have been doing some more research into the period. I have discovered some wonderful DVD's of archive film footage - London in the Thirties in two parts. In this Timereel series there are films of every decade of 20th Century London life. I found the films really useful and some of the facts surprising: the average person in the 1930's went to the cinema three times a week, the phone was so new that they had lessons on how to answer a phone in school, more people were killed on the roads than now and George Bernard Shaw was filmed telling the nation not to worry about Hitler!  The films gave a real feel to the time and were extremely helpful.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Emma Thompson's Pre-Raphaelite Film about Effie Gray

Effie Gray by John Everett Millais

The Pre-Raphaelites have hit the headlines again with Emma Thompson's new film about Effie Gray.

Thompson's film is about the love triangle between Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais. Effie fell in love with Ruskin's best friend and protege Millais and divorced her very respectable husband Ruskin on the grounds that they had never consummated their marriage. It was reported that Ruskin was repulsed by Effie's body. In her famed letter to her parents Effie wrote:

"He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason... that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April."

The playwright Gregory Murphy, wrote a play called The Countess, which dealt with the same affair as Thompson's film. The play ran in an off-Broadway theatre for some time and also had a run in the UK. Gregory Murphy is suing Emma Thompson for infringement of copyright. This seems a rather far fetched accusation for a biographical work - when the story is in the public domain. There is also another play called Mrs Ruskin by Kim Morrisey, which appeared at the Warehouse Theatre in Croydon and if Gregory Murphy were to win his case could it also be assumed that Kim Morrisey could then sue Emma Thompson as well!

I did actually see The Countess play in London, written by Gregory Murphy. I did not witness any new revelations about the Effie/Ruskin/Millais story which I had not already read about and am surprised that Murphy has made this accusation.

I am certain Emma Thompson will win and hope that her film will help to bring the Pre-Raphaelites into focus even more - which could easily make a difference to our musical POSSESSED, about the Jane/Morris/Rossetti love triangle. I am a great admirer of Thompson's work, both as a writer and an actress, and feel sure that her take on the Effie story will have both depth and quality.

Friday, 11 February 2011

What Musical Theatre Writers Need

Last night I went to a meeting held by Writing Lab. It was an opportunity to network and also to discuss "what writers need". There is plenty around for musical theatre writers at the very beginning of their career but very little for writers who have proved themselves but not become a household name.

The Writing Lab was created by Mercury Musical Developments but has now come under the umbrella of the BML Librettists Workshop. The group is run by Librettist/Lyricist Christine Denniston - who is also a member of BML. Christine was a member of the BMI Lehman Engel Workshop in New York for some years. She is also the librettist of a wonderful new musical I went to see at the Watermill Theatre last summer, based on Terence Rattigan's AFTER LYDIA, with lyrics and Music by pop star Gwyneth Herbert.

Christine brought together a very interesting group of librettists, composers and lyricists working in musical theatre. We discussed possibilities like: mentoring, dramaturgy, networking evenings, musical theatre directors, choreography for musical theatre and exchanged news about the BML Workshops and what they offer. The discussion was heated and interesting. We now plan to meet again in a months time to have time to think about the discussion and to plan a direction ahead to make these things happen.

It was a very worthwhile evening, where I met a lot of fascinating people, and felt that we were really trying to make a difference to musical theatre development in the UK.

Monday, 7 February 2011


Steve is the musical advisor for Trevor Nunn's new production Flare Path, opening at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 3rd March and running until 4th June. This poignant play by Terence Rattigan was made into a screenplay in 1954 called THE WAY TO THE STARS, starring Michael Redgrave. It is based on Rattigan's own experience as a tail gunner in the RAF during the Second World War - a story of love and loyalty, courage and fear.

Trevor Nunn's production has a wonderful cast including Sheridan Smith (of Legally Blonde fame), Sienna Miller and James Purefoy.