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As a child the thing I loved most was musicals, I saw Oliver in the West End when I was four and was immediately hooked.  Apparently l left the theatre singing the songs.  The only thing I wanted was to be in Oliver.  No matter that I couldn’t really sing and was painfully shy.  When I was nine I convinced my mum to take me to an open audition for a revival at the Aldwych theatre starring the original Fagin Ron Moody and my whole family thought she was mad to agree.  I walked out of the audition that day cast as one of Fagin’s gang.

 

From there my love affair with musicals deepened.  I became obsessed with the 1973 film of Jesus Christ Superstar and wrecked my voice nightly in my bedroom trying to scream out Heaven on their Minds like Carl Anderson, before moving on to Les Mis and Phantom.  I was cast as Jason in a production of March of the Falsettos at the Albery theatre when I was twelve and that introduction to William Finn completely changed my view of what musical theatre can be.  It didn’t have to be epic, it could be up close and personal.  Very personal.  Even though I had little in common with Jason and what he and his family were going through I felt deeply connected to the show and was fuelled by it’s wonderful, complex score and intimate, very real story.  I was lucky enough to play Pinocchio in a new original musical by Monty Norman (of James Bond theme fame) at the Watford Palace and that involvement with brand new material and what it took to bring a show to life was thrilling. 

 

Then I found Sondheim.  First Sweeney Todd, then Company, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, I ate it all up.  My new obsession.  I was privileged to be an understudy in the original London cast of Into the Woods and got to work with and observe his genius first hand.  I still can’t quite believe that.  I then fell heart first into Sunday in the Park and Assassins and played Henrik in A Little Night Music at drama school.  By this time I had started writing my own songs and was toying with the idea of writing a musical.  When I ended up in the chorus of Miss Saigon at Drury Lane I spent my weekends and daytimes doing just that.  That musical was heard by Clive Paget who was running the Bridewell Theatre and who saw something in me and asked me to be resident composer there.  

 

Clive introduced me to the shows of Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChiusa and I started writing and writing and writing.  I wrote three musicals for Clive at the Bridewell and then one for the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough.  I was mentioned as “one to watch” the “future of musical theatre writing” in legit newspapers.  All I wanted to do was write musicals.  So what happened?

 

Well I did write quite a few; twelve or thirteen actually, but I got pulled into writing scores for first theatre and then television and film and most recently dance.  Working with some extraordinary directors, playwrights and actors kept me creatively on my toes and I learnt a lot, but I kind of stopped writing musicals.  Were my musicals any good?  Some were getting there.  I had a couple of tough experiences; one where I was commissioned to write quite a high profile musical which was beset by problems before the writing had even started.  When the writing did start the book writer and I were given only a couple of months to write an original story, book, music and lyrics with no workshops and then a massive premiere.  When we started rehearsals I was busy orchestrating the show so wasn’t really in the rehearsal room, and then we hit tech and the problems really started.  The show went on.  Some people loved it.  Some people hated it.  The producer said in a newspaper interview that the book writer and I were the Emperor’s new clothes.   Thanks for that.  Was it a great show?  No.  Was it terrible?  No.  I still think it’s my best musical theatre score but realistically we were doomed from the start and with hindsight I never should have accepted the job but I thought we could pull it off.  That experience definitely dampened my desire to write musicals.

 

I went on to use my songwriting in lots of plays - One Man Two Guvnors of course but also songs crept into lots of other projects; Don Quixote, The Hypocrite, Drunk, The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, the Rover, Saving Santa… but I wasn’t focussed on writing musicals any more.

 

Recently I’ve begin to think about it again, but I genuinely don’t know if the audience is there for the kind of show I long to write anymore.  I’ve sat in audiences watching musicals recently feeling completely alien, what is this thing in front of me?  I don’t recognise it as musical theatre. I don’t really recognise it as theatre.  The audience are loving it so I guess it’s just not for me, but is there anyone out there who wants to see the kind of musicals that I would want to make?

 

Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying musical theatre shouldn’t keep moving, of course it needs to but I just want something of substance.  Something where the writing is disciplined and carefully hewn.  Something with something big to say.  Something worthy of reviving five, ten years down the line.  Something worth re-inventing as theatrical fashions change.  For a couple of years I sat on the board of Mercury Musicals Development and one big question that kept coming up was “should new musical theatre have it’s own dedicated space - a Royal Court for new musicals writing” I strongly felt and still do that that is the death of musicals.  As soon as we put our arms round musical theatre to protect it and suggest to audiences that musicals should be thought of differently to plays then the musical will eat itself.

 

Sondheim’s death has brought this into focus for me. When I think about the shows of his I love  most they all have one thing in common - there’s the thing that they’re about and then the thing that they’re ABOUT.  The plot and then the theme.  And with Sondheim the theme is the thing that I leave thinking about.  He wrote big pieces that spoke to something deep in us and made us know ourselves better.

 

Sure entertainment is fine and important, but if that’s what I come out of a theatre thinking - that I was entertained and nothing more then I feel cheated.  I want to feel moved, to question myself, to learn something, to feel empathy with characters I am completely different to, to have my heart swell, and my soul stirred and my guilt prodded.  I want to have to phone my best friend after watching Merrily to make sure we don’t end up like Frank and Charley.  I want to make a kid obsess about the lives of those characters the way I did about Marvin’s tight knit family in Falsettos.  I want musicals that matter.  I want to make people gasp and stand and stamp and argue.  I don’t just want to reach a few musical theatre fans in a one off performance.  I want to make something that can touch thousands of people.  I want to make something so personal it becomes universal.  I want to take characters and give them something to sing about.  I want to remind everyone that the way to make something hit someone hard is to enter straight through the heart and musicals can do that better than anything else.

Why Musicals Matter to Me