Bringing a new musical to the stage is a collaborative effort that involves a lot of people and even more hard work. It begins with the composer and book writer, and then turns into a creative circus with directors, casts, choreographers, set designers, costume designers, lighting technicians, musicians and so forth stepping into the ring to entertain an audience through use of their particular set of skills. Before any of that though, every new musical begins with just one thing: an idea.
There has been an abundance in recent years of jukebox and film-adapted musicals. The inspiration behind such shows as Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You and Viva Forever was the music of their respective featured artists (ABBA – Queen – Spice Girls), which then became the formative thread to link the story together, while popular films like The Bodyguard and Ghost have been transported from screen to stage and retold in a uniquely musical fashion. Adapting musicals from classic novels is also a widespread practice, with the West End’s two longest running musicals – Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera – both having been conceived from the original writings of authors Victor Hugo and Gaston Leroux.
These are your three main idea portals for the conception of a new musical and most have been sprung from one of these original formats. What you don’t find too often is real history used as inspiration for musical theatricality. The history of our nation is a rich and compelling one – there are stories to be found everywhere and they are rich fodder for a creative mind. I’m somewhat of a history buff. It’s a subject that has always held an interest for me. History is filled with fascinating individuals and unforgettable events, and in the month of April, there is one particular historical event which inevitably comes to mind: Titanic. The sinking of what was the most luxurious ship of its time on the maiden voyage is certainly an event that has proven unforgettable, her story still in the minds of people a century after she disappeared beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. It seems rather fitting then, that in the same month the disaster occurred, Southwark Playhouse has announced that it is to present a new production of the Tony Award-winning musical based on the sinking of the Titanic.
Staged at Southwark Playhouse’s new premises in Elephant & Castle, Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s musical will have a one-month run in main house The Large this summer, from 31st July to 31st August 2013 (previews from 26th July). Titanic recounts the tragic events of that night through real-life people who were on-board the doomed ship, including passengers from 1st, 2nd and 3rd class as well as famous figures such as Captain Smith and designer Thomas Andrews and brings to the forefront the dreams each character is following, whether it be in pursuing a better life or striving to achieve something wonderful.
The musical first premiered on Broadway, opening at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in April 1997. Titanic’s curse appeared to have affected its musical counterpart as well as the production was beset with technical difficulties during its preview period (ironically the on-stage model of the ship wouldn’t sink!), with critical reviews still being wholly negative even after the issues were resolved. It ended up becoming a surprise hit though, boosted in part by the support of talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and the success of James Cameron’s smash hit film Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett. The musical production ran for two years and earned five Tony Awards in that time, including one for Best Musical.
It will be the European debut of Southwark Playhouse’s new version, which is to be staged in an intimate chamber style by the creative team who were behind the acclaimed productions of Mack & Mabel, Victor/Victoria and Parade. Thom Sunderland is on-board to direct.
There are moments in history which will never be forgotten and the sinking of the RMS Titanic on the night of April 15th 1912 is one of them. The inspiration of what great feats of creativity can be accomplished, the blind arrogance of mankind and the devastating loss of life are just part of what makes the story of Titanic so hauntingly compelling. The tragedy of Titanic has always struck a chord with me and this matter, coupled with the impeccable reputation of Southwark Playhouse, certainly has me highly anticipating the opening of this musical in the summer. The wreck of Titanic may be lying on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, but it seems her spirit refuses to stay there with it.
An idea can come about through the smallest and biggest of things and if you wander through the hallways of history and open some of the doors that line it, what lies behind can spark the imagination, and for a brief moment, that light in the darkness can illuminate unlimited possibilities for the creative mind.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 23rd April 2013