The National Theatre have issued the following statement today. The National Theatre is deeply saddened to announce the death of its former Director, Sir Peter Hall, one of the great names in British theatre.
Sir Peter died on 11 September at University College Hospital, at the age of 86, surrounded by his family.
Peter Hall was an internationally celebrated stage director and theatre impresario, whose influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled. His extraordinary career spanned more than half a century: in his mid-20s he staged the English language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In 1960, aged 29, Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company which he led until 1968. The RSC realised his pioneering vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both classic and modern texts with a clear house style in both Stratford and London.
Appointed Director of the National Theatre in 1973, Peter Hall was responsible for the move from the Old Vic to the purpose-built complex on the South Bank. He successfully established the company in its new home in spite of union unrest and widespread scepticism. After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company (1988 – 2011) and in 2003 became the founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston. Throughout his career, Sir Peter was a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.
Peter Hall’s prolific work as a theatre director included the world premieres of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965), No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978), Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979), John Barton’s nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000); and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1977). Other landmark productions included Hamlet (1965, with David Warner), The Wars of the Roses (1963), The Oresteia (1981), Animal Farm (1984), Antony and Cleopatra (1987, with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins), The Merchant of Venice (1989, with Dustin Hoffman), As You Like It (2003, with his daughter Rebecca Hall) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010, with Judi Dench). Peter’s last production at the National Theatre was Twelfth Night in 2011.
Peter Hall was also an internationally renowned opera director. He staged the world premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Knot Garden (1970) and was Artistic Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (1984 – 90) where he directed more than twenty productions. Peter Hall worked at many of the world’s leading houses including The Royal Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and Bayreuth where, in 1983, he staged Wagner’s Ring Cycle to honour the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.
Hall has been married four times. He has six children and nine grandchildren. His first wife was French actress Leslie Caron, with whom he has a son, Christopher (b. 1957), and a daughter, Jennifer (b. 1958). With his second wife, Jacqueline Taylor, he has a son, Edward (b. 1966), and a daughter, Lucy (b. 1969). Hall married American opera singer Maria Ewing in 1982 with whom he has one daughter, Rebecca (b. 1982). He is now married to Nicki Frei and they have one daughter, Emma (b. 1992).
Hall has worked with all his children: for the National Theatre, Jennifer played Miranda in The Tempest 1988; Rebecca, aged nine, played young Sophie in the Channel 4 adaptation of The Camomile Lawn, for The Peter Hall Company she played Vivie in Mrs Warren’s Profession (2002), Rosalind in As You Like It (2003), Maria in Gallileo’s Daughter (2004) and, for the NT, Viola in Twelfth Night (2011); Emma, aged two, played Joseph in Jacob (2004, TV Movie); for the Peter Hall Company, Lucy designed Hamlet (1994), Cuckoos (2003) and Whose Life is it Anyway? (2005); Christopher produced the Channel 4 television drama The Final Passage (1996); Edward co-directed the stage epic Tantalus (2000).
Hall was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 and retired from public life.
Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, said: ‘We all stand on the shoulders of giants and Peter Hall’s shoulders supported the entirety of British theatre as we know it. All of us, including those in the new generation of theatre-makers not immediately touched by his influence, are in his debt. His legendary tenacity and vision created an extraordinary and lasting legacy for us all.’
Sir Nicholas Hytner, Director of the NT 2003 – 2015, said: ‘Peter Hall was one of the great figures in British theatrical history, up there in a line of impresarios that stretches back to Burbage. Without him there would have been no Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre’s move to the South Bank might have ended in ignominious failure, and the whole idea of the theatre as a public service dedicated both to high seriousness and popularity would not have seized the public imagination. He was a man of great warmth, and mischievous wit. When I became Director of the National Theatre in 2003, he was unstinting in his support and always generous with his advice. He was the great theatrical buccaneer of the 20th century and has left a permanent mark on our culture.’
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director of the NT 1997 – 2003 said: ‘Peter Hall’s achievement defies definition, except that perhaps, it allows us to understand why we have the word ‘great’ in our language. Peter’s greatness lay in his astonishing originality, his charismatic leadership, his unparalleled daring, his profound scholarship, his matchless articulacy and his visionary understanding of what we call ‘the theatre’ could be. In originating the RSC, he created an ensemble which led the world in Shakespeare production, but which triumphed to the same extent in presenting new plays of every kind. Not only a thrilling and penetrating director, he was also the great impresario of the age. He alone had the showmanship and energy to establish the three ring circus of our unique National Theatre on the South Bank. Peter Hall is a legend, whose legacy will benefit many generations to come. And yes, he was my beloved friend for fifty years.’
Sir Richard Eyre, Director of the NT 1988 – 1997 said: ‘Peter created the template of the modern director – part-magus, part-impresario, part-politician, part celebrity. He was – and is – the godfather (in both senses) of British theatre and like countless directors, writers and actors of several generations I have much to be grateful to him for.’
When I come back from Broadway people want to know what’s good, what’s a must see. Over the past couple of years their focus has been on Hamilton and they seem surprised when I tell them that I think it’s a good show, but not ground breaking as the PR machine would lead you to believe, its like a cross between In The Heights (which I loved) and 1776; I would then tell them, that for me the best show on the White Way was An American In Paris – a real game changer. I saw it first with Robert Fairchild in the role of Jerry Mulligan (Principal at New York City Ballet) and then Garen Scribner (Soloist with San Francisco Ballet) who is now leading the US national tour and of course the beautiful Leanne Cope (the Royal Ballet Principal) who has moved with the show along with Fairchild to London.
My retake of the show was at Saturday’s matinee in London’s vast Dominion Theatre with an Englishman taking the role of Jerry Mulligan for the very first time. Friends are pestering, wanting to know is it as good as on Broadway? Does it merit the 5 star reviews? Is it as good as Half A Sixpence? Well, my response is simple – 3 new shows merit their 5 stars – Half A Sixpence; an enthusiastic well cast show with some familiar tunes – School Of Rock; a great screen to stage transfer with an amazing cast and songs – The Girls; an original British musical that is full of emotions and tunes that stick with you as you leave the theatre.
Then there is An American In Paris, if the others got 5 stars there needs to be a higher accolade for this show – people want comparisons and digging deep I thought about the impact that West Side Story had on me when it first opened, but no, that was Jerome Robbins choreography and Bernstein’s vibrant music, good as they were (are), no match for this show – slowly it dawned on me that no musical had ever overwhelmed me in the way that this production of An American In Paris had.
The director, Christopher Wheeldon has worked miracles in creating a silk purse from a sow’s ear (sorry Gene Kelly, Vincent Minelli et al). This American In Paris has a story, characters that have a past, sets and lighting like you have never seen before, orchestrations that do justice to the amazing Gershwin score and enable every aspect of the show to be choreographed from the opening piano scene to the amazing finale. Every aspect of the show glides along, oozing class and delivering unbridled joy. Wheeldon could be compared to Professor Henry Higgins, taking this poor flower girl of a screen musical and transforming her into a lady of ultimate social standing.
The leading lady, Leanne Cope, has made the role of Lise her own (the role created by Leslie Caron in the movie) and reminds me very much of a young Audrey Hepburn, but one that can sing and dance. At Saturday’s show she performed for the very first time with the new Jerry Mulligan, who is alternating with Robert Fairchild before taking over the role full time in a few weeks. Here is another accolade for Christopher Wheeldon, somehow he managed to find a British actor that can not only sing but can dance and has been since he was 4. This is a major departure in casting as it is the first time that a recognised soloist in ballet hasn’t been cast in this role, and so it is that Ashley Day takes to the stage and partners Leanne Cope, getting the biggest standing ovation I’ve seen in the West End for many years.
It must be coincidence, but Ashley Day’s career has brought him along a path of playing leading men that are Americans. First in the UK production of High School Musical where he played college jock, Troy Bolton (the role played by Zac Efron in the film), then in Book Of Mormon where he made a number of appearances as Elder Price, and more recently he played Curly in the national tour of Oklahoma! This marked another first as he is one of the very few actors that has been able to perform as Curly in Agnes De Mille’s dream ballet (something that normally requires a ballet dancer to be added to the cast). He has worked closely with some of today’s best choreographers including Sir Matthew Bourne, Bill Deamer and Stephen Mear. So, the groundwork had been done and so it was down to Christopher Wheeldon to shape Ashley into Jerry Mulligan, and boy it’s worked in trumps.
Ashley has brought a little something extra to the show, an extra layer of panache, and now the show seems complete and I’ll be amazed if I ever see another show this good…..oh, wait; has Christopher Wheeldon got another show in the pipeline? Better wait and see.
The Girls is a TOTAL delight. A terrific book and score and no over amlification!!
I laughed out loud and cried. I can’t remember the last time I had such a satisfyingly wonderful time in a show. Minimal sets – this show relies simply on the book, score and a glorious cast. It is better than the film and the play – the expertly crafted new book and songs enhance, but keep the characters alive and with depth. It could be the best British musical since Valmouth. I was – a very rare thing – standing (I can’t remember the last time a show warranted this). I will go back!!
When I first saw Billy Elliot, over 10 years ago I wrote, “This is not a time to beat about the bush. Billy Elliot strikes me as the greatest British musical I have ever seen, and I have not forgotten Lionel Bart’s Oliver! or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. There is a rawness, a warm humour and a sheer humanity here that are worlds removed from the soulless slickness of most musicals.”
Revisiting the show in its latest guise as a UK touring production, a year into its run and at the huge Mayflower in Southampton, I can only say that with age it has got even better. The rough edges that would have given Cameron Mackintosh a fit of the vapours have disappeared. There seems so much more that is big and bold, imaginative and great-hearted than in the original. Billy Elliot the musical has grown up.
Ten years on, the music from that grand old man of British pop, Sir Elton John seems even more relevant today than it did back in the early days of the 21st century. His wonderful score ranges from folk to hard rock, from razzle-dazzle show tunes to soaring anthems of human solidarity and defiance.
The emotion in this production always seems real and spontaneous, rather than cunningly manipulated to pull at the heartstrings and there is anger as well as joy, bitter resentment as well compassion, above all a sense of nagging grief.
The show, set during the miners’ strike, is also a passionate and unashamedly partisan lament for the damage the Thatcher government inflicted on the pit villages of Britain, and for proud men who found themselves thrown on the scrap-heap of historical change. You do not have to agree with the show’s defiantly old Labour politics to be moved by the passion with which they are expressed and some may find parallels with today’s world.
The whole cast is blessed with a freshness and sincerity I have rarely seen equaled, and one leaves this triumphant production in a mist of tears and joy. A trip to the Mayflower before the 6th March is a must, do not miss this opportunity to see the best ever production of the best-ever British musical.
Patrick Hayward 8th February 2017
Poop, poop! Buckle up for a boisterous, joyous ride through Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s classic. This West End-bound new musical by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, with a book by Julian Fellowes — the team behind the hit Mary Poppins — hurtles along with enough speed and spectacle to satisfy even the amphibian petrolhead Mr Toad.
Yet it is also sweet-natured, gently witty and heart-meltingly charming; and if the story flies by so swiftly that it threatens to whisk the well-loved riverbank characters clean off their scampering feet, it’s rendered with warmth and elan in Rachel Kavanaugh’s glowing production.
Peter McKintosh’s designs, with textures of wood, earth and water, thickets of bulrushes and curtains of willow fronds, shimmeringly evoke the English countryside. This nostalgic idyll teems with enchanting creatures. There are foxes slinking about in hunting pink, tweedy rabbits, a family of nervous hedgehogs and otters that cavort, Busby Berkeley-style, in striped Edwardian bathing suits, all nimbly choreographed by Aletta Collins.
The songs set the action against the changing seasons: summer is heralded, in swooping close-harmony, by a trio of swallows dressed as cabin crew, with sky-blue capes and chic little hats. Christmas brings wassailing field mice, snug in duffle coats, lanterns clutched in their paws.
It’s spring that sees Fra Fee’s eager Mole snuffling out of his burrow to pal up with Thomas Howes’s brisk, kindly Rat, Rufus Hound’s irrepressibly silly toff Toad and David Birrell’s imposing Badger.
Bursting into the bucolic scene come motorcars, Toad’s canary-yellow horse-drawn caravan, a steam locomotive. And the score is diverse, ranging from lilting folk tunes and chorales to a rap number when Toad, assisted by a crew of squirrel mechanics, soups up his beloved car, and a Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche when life in the fast lane lands him in court.
Sometimes the narrative feels over-compressed, and a few tender moments between the friends get crushed in the rush. But the performances — particularly from Fee’s beautifully sung Mole — are winning. Hound is not much of a singer but makes up for it with Boris Johnson-ish buffoonery and bombast.
Fellowes restores some gender balance to Grahame’s tale by giving us a Mrs Otter (Sophia Nomvete, terrific feisty fun), whose wayward daughter Portia falls prey to the spivvy, sharp-suited Weasels, led by a deliciously nasty Neil McDermott. In spite of his villainy, the show is almost all sunshine — Kavanaugh could allow a touch more darkness to creep in from the Wild Wood. But it’s hard to resist.
Review by Sam Marlowe.
Took a trip to Leicestershire this week to make a point of visiting another outdoor theatre. This one at Kilworth House is set in the grounds of an upmarket hotel; I guess the hotel sees this as a way of keeping up their residency numbers through the quiet summer months. The show I was going to see was their second production of the 2016 season, Thoroughly Modern Millie. A show I first saw on Broadway back in 2002 with Sutton Foster and Gavin Creel and one that I was not particularly enamoured with, something that wasn’t helped by seeing the London production with Amanda Holden the following year. In the intervening years I have seen several more productions, the most recent being at the Landor in Clapham last summer.
It’s no coincidence that choreographer Stephen Mear was called upon to direct this show. Stephen has an enviable track record with musicals that depend on great choreography, having won, with Matthew Bourne, the Olivier for Best Choreography for Mary Poppins in 2005 and subsequently working on a whole gambit of number one shows including the new touring production of Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang and the recent Coliseum production of Sunset Boulevard. Mear understands that Millie is a show that depends on bright, effervescent choreography and boy does he deliver.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is not a show that requires a huge production – what it does require is a dedicated, talented cast that can tell a story through song and dance. It is one of those rare occasions when more is a must and less a disaster. For once it’s a production that delivers– a true bubbly, fun, enjoyable evening……and under the stars!
The show requires the pacing that I believe only a choreographer can deliver – not just the action but most importantly the humour and this show delivers it in trumps. Previous productions have depended on star names in supporting roles, good at what they do – but not necessarily good in the particular roles. Here, everyone is a star but maybe apart from Millie and Jimmy not ones that you would readily recognise. The casting of Millie and Jimmy is a work of magic and Michelle Francis and Ashley Day set the highest standards that the company aspire to.
Both Michelle Francis and Ashley Day are accomplished performers in the West End and out of town; Michelle having recently played Iris in the Chichester production of Mack and Mabel after lengthy stints in both Jersey Boys and Wicked; Ashley having spent 18 months in the west end production of The Book Of Mormon, went on to play Curly in the number one tour of Oklahoma! and then as Bill Calhoun in Kiss Me Kate with Opera North. Both have exciting opportunities in the pipeline and based on these performances, very well deserved.
It’s a joyous evening of fun, good humour, great songs and fantastic dancing – what more do you want from a night at the theatre? Just one thing, an easier trip home.
An article by Libby Purves featured in The Times – 27th June 2016
As the culturati weep into their lattes while demonising the poor, old and insecure, the carry-on has been beyond parody.
It has been a particularly grim couple of days for a soft-left newsaholic like me with a tenderness for the arts world. To quote one performing artist’s tweet — “Ashamed. Terrified. Shocked. Horrified”. Indeed: but it was not the actual vote that shocked, life having taught me that democracy has rough patches. It was the online squawk of reaction by my timeline, my tribe: cultural icons, colleagues, friends. If they feel “let down, betrayed, distressed” by the result, so did I by the mass response of the liberal media and arts sector to this vote against a 43-year-old administrative arrangement.
These are directors, actors, critics, cultural titans, intelligent lefties. Yet the carry-on was beyond parody: anguished bunker-mentality tinged with patronising, generalising hauteur about those who voted Leave. There had been nonsense from that general direction in the days before, alarm calls like panicked parakeets about how Brexit meant turning your back on Beethoven, Picasso and foreign cooking. This reached its apogee with the telly critic AA Gill decrying fuddy-duddy Britain as opposed to “the Renaissance, the rococo, the Romantics, the impressionists, gothic, baroque, neoclassicism, realism, expressionism, futurism, fauvism, cubism, dada, surrealism, postmodernism and kitsch”. He concluded that the only people thinking of Brexit were “old, philistine scared gits” (Mr Gill is 62 tomorrow. There’s a lot of down-wid-da- kidzery in all this).
On Friday an endlessly repeated Financial Times contribution mourned “the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied”, as if nobody ever had a foreign friend before Directive 2004/38/EC. Some were just upset: “In shock . . . the blackest of news . . . spent most of yesterday crying, couldn’t get out of bed” . . . “In a hotel room watching this s**t I feel very alone, Texting people I love telling them we’ll be OK” . . . “Angry and betrayed”.
The model Alexa Chung was one of many who tweeted a broken-heart emoji; JK Rowling mourned, “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted magic more”. Jim Al-Khalili, fine science communicator, sniffed, “Presumably as an immigrant I should hand my job back to whoever it is I took it from. A victory for xenophobia.”
So shock and sadness turned to blame. “Will find it hard today — walking up the street knowing over half of people responsible for causing a load of misery” . . . “How about every person who voted Leave be required to find a European & apologise to their face?”. The tremendous director Rupert Goold “can’t live with . . . the ugly face of this country’s spite”. Mini-celebs piled in: Richard Bacon with “So chippy. So economically illiterate”, though the renta-presenter might not be one’s economist of choice. Actually, plenty of the righteous tweeters seem vague on economics: one mid-rant expressing surprise that the governor of the Bank of England sounded “American”. Clearly not a keen business-page reader. Many re-tweeted the same few racist posters, as if BNP viciousness was brand new.
Many of these are people whose work is admirable or brilliant, and who mean well, yet elitism erupted like a poisoned boil. Of all the culturati the only sharp pre-vote voice was our Richard Morrison: “The arts world prides itself on its diversity, inclusivity, open-mindedness and constant efforts to reach out to all. Yet at the very moment when Britain decides its future, hardly anyone in the arts seems to understand, let alone agree with, the opinion of at least half the population.” Dramatists, novelists, comedians and songwriters are rarely celebrated for reflecting the concerns of the hidden millions rather than mocking. Once we had Orwell and Priestley: now, it is almost comic to watch the affluent metropolitan left being cross with the zero-hours strugglers of Sunderland for disrespecting the instructions of a Tory PM and big business.
Anguished bunker-mentality tinged with patronising hauteur about those who voted Leave.
Fair enough to despise politicians: Laurie Penny howls at “angry-looking whey-faced men in suits”, and they would be equally free to retaliate about Instagrammed cappuccino-chicks who couldn’t run a whelk stall. Bashing Farage, Johnson, Gove and Duncan Smith is routine politics. The really shameful thing is for those who purport to be socialist humanitarians to demonise 17½ million people: patronising them as stupidly “deceived”, or writing them off as racist, bigoted, malicious or just old: what Penny calls “the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain”. Thank God for Peter Tatchell, a grown-up, swimming against the tide with: “The left must listen to Brexit supporters & their concerns. Very wrong to dismiss them all as racists & xenophophobes”.
Right on, Peter. They too have hearts and needs and fears and families, and at least they turned out, more than at any election for 24 years. Note that only 35 per cent of the 18 to 24-year-olds now being soppily mourned as “disinherited” even voted. Of under-35s it was still only 58 per cent. If youth was betrayed, as the indignant claim, they helped to do it. Straw polling at Glastonbury revealed that affording £232 a head doesn’t necessarily mean bothering to book a postal vote.
Respect voters, channel Chesterton: “Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget/For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet”. OK, they may have spoken wrong and plunged us into difficulties. But it is not fair to blame them more than the arrogant, incompetent Brussels institutions and the decades when governments neglected inequality. Of course, there is racism to be fought. Yes, there was some disgusting campaigning by Farage. Yet that is no excuse for polishing your liberal credentials by making bogeymen of the poor, the old, the frightened and the insecure. They voted. Listen, engage, help.
This year is looking to be a good one for lyricist DON BLACK. As well as a new West End musical, Mrs Henderson Presents, under his belt, the London Coliseum is to play host to a revival of Sunset Boulevard (for which he co-wrote the book and lyrics with Christopher Hampton and won two Tony Awards) starring Glenn Close. Tell Me On a Sunday, for which he also collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber, is also touring the country. And this week, a revival of his 1978 musical Bar Mitzvah Boy has opened at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre in London’s Highgate.
Bar Mitzvah Boy is an adaptation of Jack Rosenthal’s BBC TV play of the same name, with a book by Rosenthal and music by Jule Styne.
Here, he is in conversation with Scott Matthewman.
What was working with Jack Rosenthal like?
There was no better man, no more talented man than Jack Rosenthal. He was wonderful, it was a wonderful play. If you saw it on television, the play was just fantastic. Being Jewish, I understood all those people. Also, working with Jule Styne, the man who wrote Gypsy and Funny Girl, was a great honour. All in all it was a phenomenal time.
And we’ve talked for years about doing it again, but it’s not so easy to get these things back on. But we did a workshop in New York about seven years ago. Jack had passed by then, and we had this other writer called David Thompson, who wrote The Scottsboro Boys and the revised version of Chicago. A very clever guy.
We changed a couple of things, and also I wrote some new songs. Jule Styne had passed, but Jule’s widow Margaret gave me access to his music. And so there’s a couple of new tunes in there – I think three new Jule Styne tunes that no one’s ever heard.
So he hadn’t written them with Bar Mitzvah Boy in mind?
No he hadn’t. We’ve used all the ones he did write for Bar Mitzvah Boy, but with a man like Jule Styne, there were dozens of songs that were never used, that were written for other shows and came out of them. So I just went through his catalogue and picked the tunes that would fit this Jewish story.
The original production only ran for 78 performances. Why do you think it didn’t connect with audiences?
No one knows why any one musical doesn’t work. They either do or they don’t. But you know especially with a team like that… history books are littered with musicals that had great stars in them, that then closed quickly.
It’s a funny comment to make, but some people said:, “It’s very Jewish. Is there an audience for such a Jewish piece?” But Fiddler On the Roof was very Jewish, so you can’t tell.
I have my own theory about it. I think it was over produced. It was made to be like a big musical. The director was Martin Charnin, who’d just had a big hit with Annie, and I always felt – and Jack Rosenthal certainly felt – that it was over produced. Too much was made of it, too many big production numbers. Basically it’s a story about a small Jewish family from Willesden, who are getting a bar mitzvah put together. And the smaller the space, the better the musical will be.
I didn’t know [Upstairs at the Gatehouse] but the producer, Katy Lipson, said it was perfect for this. It’s in a Jewish area, it’s small, you’ll get to know the actors. I don’t want it in a big theatre, so I’m delighted about that.
Thinking about the perception of it being ‘too Jewish’, do you think today’s audiences will be more open to its story compared to those of the 1970s?
It’s a universal theme, really, and a wonderful story. In a sentence, it’s about a boy who is becoming a man. That’s what it means in the Jewish religion, when you’re 13 you become a man.
From this boy’s point of view, he looks at the men in his life – his father, his grandfather, potential brother-in-law, and he thinks: “What’s so wonderful about being one of them?” One’s a bit simple, one’s a bit of a fool… it’s all loveable, but why go through all this agony of what you have to go through, to learn the rituals? It touches a lot of nerves.
I understand there was an 1980s Off-Broadway version that relocated the setting?
Well it was never really ‘produced’ as such, it was more of a private workshop. It became about an American family, and it just didn’t work. You have to be true to the piece.
What I’m pleased about now, and I think Jack would have been thrilled too, it’s a very honest and truthful interpretation. There’s no Broadway polish or veneer that Jack was so against. In the West End production we had an American choreographer, a very successful Broadway director, and we made too much of it. I’ve always thought it’s a little gem, and it should stay a little gem.
That happens a lot with musicals. You start with one musical, and before you know it you’ve got enormous sets, a big orchestra – but it sounds better when you’re just listening to it in your kitchen. Just one of those things.
Sunset Boulevard has been a bit like that as well, with Craig Revel Horwood’s revival that pared it down to a small group of player/performers, so a musical which started off huge found a new, smaller sound.
I love small musicals. The more focused they are the better. But I must say Sunset originally was stunning. That set by John Napier, it was mind boggling.
And now of course, it’s going bigger than ever with Glenn Close at the London Coliseum…
Yes, I’m looking forward to that. I had dinner with Glenn when she first came over. She was over the moon, raring to go. And we’ve got a huge orchestra – 57-piece, or something like that. And I think it’ll sound amazing.
It was great hearing her passion for the piece at the press conference. Have you had the temptation to revisit any that musical and give it a little polish?
No, not really, it hasn’t been necessary. It’s a much-loved piece and there’s no reason to change it, other than for a 60-odd piece orchestra. It’ll sound different. And we have the amazing Glenn Close, who’s phenomenal, and who I have great memories of, because she did it in New York for so long. I know what to expect, but the British people have never seen her do it. So they’re going to have a hell of a night.
When it comes to Mrs Henderson Presents, that’s a story based on a true story but is itself an adaptation of a screenplay. Did you use the film as the sole basis for your lyrics?
Well Terry Johnson, who directed and wrote the book, had been working on it for – I’m not sure how many years. It’s been four or five years, certainly, since Norma Heyman the producer came to me and said: “what do you think?”
When I saw the film, I thought, ‘there’s a song there, and there’s a song there’ – the places for songs just stood out.
And of course I started out life as a stand-up comic, so I played places like the Windmill. I knew that world, I was brought up with Max Miller and those kind of people. There’s something about knowing a piece that helps you a great deal and makes you feel very comfortable.
And funnily enough, the musicals we’ve talked about I feel very comfortable with. With Bar Mitzvah Boy, I’m an East End Jewish boy, and I know those people. Sunset Boulevard, I spent nearly all my childhood watching movies, so I felt very at home with Hollywood stories. And with Mrs Henderson Presents, I feel very much at home with this story about a theatre struggling to survive. It’s a wonderful tale, and the fact that it takes place during the war adds another dimension to it.
And it takes place during the Blitz, and of course the Windmill was the only theatre that stayed open. So there’s a bit of history to it. Again, it’s a true story. The people in Bath, they laughed like crazy – because there’s nudity, but in a very tasteful way.
Also, it’s surprisingly patriotic. I thought it was a bit when I was writing it, but it’s only when you get an audience that you see they’re visibly moved by the spirit of people during the war. So that was a bit of an eye opener and a very pleasant one.
When you are writing song lyrics, how do you prefer to work with your composers?
It varies. It’s very, very different. With John Barry [with whom he collaborated on several James Bond theme songs] it was always the music first, but he did like to have a title and an opening line. For George Fenton, who I did Mrs Henderson Presents with, I’d write a title and about ten lines to get him started. Then he’d come back and he’d have changed some of the lines, or said that he didn’t use all of them.
I must say I’m happiest when I have a melody. But it doesn’t matter. With Andrew Lloyd Webber, it’s nearly always a tune first, but not always. He loves titles as well.
You have to get them started. Give them a title and say: “I can write a good lyric if it goes roughly like this.” But it doesn’t matter either way.
On your website, you say that you ‘blame yourself entirely for the death of variety’. What on earth did you do to it?
I was a stand-up comedian, but I said that because I wasn’t very good! I played a lot of places in the country, and somehow or other they all closed.
People do ask me why I stopped. When they do, I tell them that I wrote my first song while waiting for a laugh in Darlington.
You can use that one.
reproduced from Musical Theatre News