As a writer of a new musical, there are a lot of obstacles between you and that theatre stage: finance, casting; promotion, venues; timing… not to mention the fact of writing the damn thing in the first place. It’s a long, hard road that claims many a weary traveller along the way, but perseverance (and more often that not, a bit of luck) will see some reach their destination. Of course, making it into the West End is just the first stop.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to get your show into an off-West End theatre, then well done you, that in itself is quite an achievement. The question is though, “Where do you go from here?” A small, unknown production will most likely be offered a 4-6 week run, or there-about . If that run is a success, then you’ll probably want to ensure that it lives on in some way, instead of being consigned to a needlessly early death – but how? The obvious plan is to try for a West End run by running around town pitching your show to producers, although releasing a cast recording is also a popular option. Even if you do earn yourselves a West End run, chances aren’t high that your show is going to follow in the footsteps of giants Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera and run for 25 years or more. Another limited run is more like it. Then it’s right back to where you started, just with a bit more recognition perhaps. So what then? Well, one show has gone down a very different route in its quest for greatness.
After three years of development, which saw a short run at the King’s Head Theatre and a West End concert, In July 2011, Betwixt! finally had its moment in the West End spotlight with a 4 week run at the Trafalgar Studios 2, which was extended by three weeks to 10th September 2011. Written and directed by Ian McFarlane, the ‘funny musical’ was based in New York and revolved around a struggling writer and his flamboyant roommate, who undergo an unexpected journey to a strange fantasy land. It featured a superb cast, led by Stevie Webb (Departure Lounge), Ashleigh Gray (Wicked) and West End newcomer Benedict Salter, as well as former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan and stage and screen star Ellen Greene (Little Shop of Horrors, Heroes). With a story which included ex-crazed nymphs, hunchbacks, cross-dressing mutes, dancing reporters, enchantresses (of the evil-world-dominating variety) and a disembodied head with a Bavarian accent, Betwixt! certainly had a style all of its own and since its closure, has still managed to remain in the thoughts of its fans; which is another achievement right there. Now, the creative team are looking to take the show in another direction by producing an independent feature film.
Using crowd-funding website Indie GoGo, Betwixt! producer Christopher D Clegg and writer/director Ian McFarlane are attempting to bring the show to the big screen with a cast of combined TV and musical theatre actors (soon to be announced), as well as the added intention of releasing the movie soundtrack alongside it. On their funding page, Clegg says, “Producing new musical theatre is always tough, especially when it’s an original story such as Betwixt!, and turning it into a film is even more risky so we need your help to make the best film we can and preserve this great show.”
It certainly is a bold move. During its West End run, Betwixt! was something of a mixed bag, gaining itself an average of ‘three stars’ from critics. A reviewer on Thepublicreviews.com wrote, “The programme advises ‘don’t ask too many questions – just go with it’ when it comes to the plot, sage advice indeed.” Audiences seemed to unquestionably adore it however which, let’s be honest, is usually a far more accurate indication of a show’s worth. They’ve turned it into something of a cult classic among musical theatre fans, which could give the film a solid starting-off point. It also had the added bonus of receiving the stamp of approval from an array of famous faces, including Jenny Éclair, Alan Davies and the legendary Stephen Fry, who described the musical as “shatteringly brilliant”.
Clegg and McFarlane are hoping to bank a full $50,000 for the project and have given themselves until 2nd April 2012 to raise the funds needed to make Betwixt! into a feature film. As is the norm for these fundraising resources, donations will be rewarded with a range of perks, the contents of which are dependant on the size of your donation. Betwixt! perks range from a handwritten ‘Thank You’ from the filmmakers and a film credit, to a walk-on role in the film and an invitation to the premiere – in between they also offer signed DVDs, CDs and posters, a meet-and-greet with the cast, associate producer credit and the chance to have tea with ‘Joan the Mute’.
Developing a small stage musical into a full feature film is no mean feat, and while Clegg and McFarlane’s ambition should be applauded, I expect they are going to find the road ahead to be a devilishly difficult one, littered with potholes. That being said, I wish them every success and who knows – this could change the way the fortunes of the small, unknown musical are made.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
To pledge funds to the Betwixt! film project, go to www.indiegogo.com/BetwixtMusical
13th January 2012