No, I don’t have a crystal ball, unfortunately. But the other day I saw the return to London of a ground-breaking musical, The Fix — first premiered in the UK, at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997 in a co-production with Cameron Mackintosh — to the Union that itself broke lots of ground then, and personally meant a lot to me as it also introduced me to someone who subsequently became a very good friend, its composer Dana P Rowe, so the show became part of my own future.
The Fix — which concerns a fierce American political family’s attempts to promote a wayward son towards high office — has a song in which he tries out his political speechifying: ” I see the future, /I see the path we must try, /I see tomorrow, I see us striving for the sky,/ I see us waking up one morning to a song we’ve never sung,/ I see the future….”
And I felt, seeing the young Louis Maskell singing it (in a role that was originally played by none other than John Barrowman) at the Union in Michael Strassen’s production that I was seeing a future star, too: not since Lee Mead, whom he somewhat resembles, have I thought that there’s a bigger musical star in the making than him.
I was writing here just yesterday about the emergence of even younger acting talent in the hopeful faces of students from the Guildford School of Acting, who provided the choir to the concert performance of Little Women that I hosted on Sunday, itself written by a young writer.
And it occurs to me just how the torch of talent is passed, like the Olympic one currently touring the UK, from generation to generation: in his liner notes for the cast recording of The Fix, none other than Pete Townshend writes of Dana Rowe and his writing partner John Dempsey that they are “major new talents”. And the spirit of Townshend, and his score for The Who’s Tommy, also popped into my head watching Loserville, a new British musical that opened at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last night by young writers Elliot Davis and James Bourne, and which I saw on Monday night.
As I wrote in my review for The Stage, “For freshness, boldness and introducing an original and authentic rock musical voice to the theatre, there’s been nothing quite like this since The Who’s Tommy was first brought to the stage. And just like that show began as an album from which it subsequently significantly departed, so Loserville has its earliest origins in an album that composer James Bourne first created under the banner of his band Son of Dork called Welcome to Loserville, from which only a handful of songs have been retained and an entirely new structure has been developed around.”
In other words, it is definitely not a jukebox musical though its creative spark was lit by an existing album. And for the first time in years, I am starting to feel hopeful all over again for the British musical. New voices are emerging and being heard, from Tim Minchin’s triumph with Matilda to Adam Cork’s with London Road.
As well as James Bourne swapping the pop stage for the theatrical one (where in fact his career began as a performer, appearing as one of the gang of boys in the original Sam Mendes production of Oliver! at the London Palladium in 1993 at the age of 11, before taking over the title role a year later), last night also saw the London press opening of another pop star turned writer Damon Albarn’s second opera, Doctor Dee at the London Coliseum. From Busted’s Bourne to Blur’s Albarn, not to mention Elton John (Billy Elliot and more) and Dave Stewart (Ghost), it is striking just how many homegrown pop stars are turning to writing for theatrical stages at the moment.
Yesterday, too, I went down to Brixton to meet Boy George to talk to him about the return of his 2002 musical Taboo, which may have interpolated a couple of Culture Club hits but was otherwise original; and before that, I also attended the press launch for Viva Forever, the new musical being constructed out of old Spice Girls songs that is opening in the West End in November.
It’s amazing just how much is happening at the moment. There seems to be a real energy around new musicals and new writing, and it may not be a coincidence that it ties in with the Arts Council’s acknowledgement, at last, of some of the support organisations behind it, with Mercury Musical Developments (MMD), Musical Theatre Matters (MTM) and Perfect Pitch all in receipt of regular funding.
In the midst of all this new work vying for attention, it is frankly baffling that the West End return for one of its former pop icons Tommy Steele in Scrooge to the London Palladium in October should not have bothered to issue a press release to coincide with the commencement of its advertising campaign. It was announced in a half page press ad in the Sunday Times over the weekend, but no release has yet been forthcoming three days later. I would have thought that traditional PR channels would matter more than most for an old-time star like Steele; but without the formal courtesy of a release, his imminent return to the London stage is going to go unremarked in the welter of news about far newer work.