Former Phantom star Nadim Naaman recently followed in the footsteps of many other West End performers before him by recording his own album, titled We All Want The Same. Naaman is a talented performer in his own right, and one with a respectable following of fans, but is not as well known as the likes of Ramin Karimloo, John Owen-Jones and Lee Mead. It’s an unfortunate fact that many theatre fans would perhaps not recognise his name – yet. That being said, I still heavily featured the upcoming release of his debut album in one of my blogs last month, alongside fellow recording artist Rachel Tucker; this was partly an attempt to circulate the name of a talented performer I believe in to my reading audience in the hope that he may find new fans, but also because his album stood out for the fact that he is a singer/songwriter and had created a track list comprised entirely of self-penned, original songs. This distinction set him apart from other recording artists, who usually cover existing songs which are popular with theatre fans and/or have a personal meaning for them. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing, as many of the West End’s stars have gotten to where they are through a defining role and their fans want to hear them sing the songs that made people fall in love with them in the first instance. Originality is such an important aspect in the theatre industry however, and it needs to be encouraged and nursed in the places where it blooms.
Writers and performers are often mutually exclusive from one another, so it’s an added bonus when both talents are found in the same person. There are a lot of promising up-and-coming musical theatre writers in the UK who have released albums of their original music in recent years; a number of who, such as Tim Prottey Jones, Joe Sterling and Christopher Orton, are stage performers but have tended to lean more towards the composing side of the business. That’s not to say that stage experience is a prerequisite for becoming a successful writer. One such composer who has done particular well through his music is Michael Bruce, who released his debut album Michael Bruce: Unwritten Songs back in 2011. One song which featured on the album unwittingly produced an unprecedented moment of musical theatre madness and achieved widespread notoriety. It was of course, Portrait of a Princess, performed by Julie Atherton (Avenue Q) on the album. The ‘fantasmagorical work of fictional fabulosity’ was a Disney parody in which Atherton reveals the truth about fairy tale princesses. It was the accompanying video which really put the song on the map though. Featuring Atherton dressed as Snow White, she trills her way through modern-day Hackney, dealing with randy dwarves and searching for her ‘Prince Charming’ on a dating website, eventually becoming knocked up by a Prince who turns out to be gay. The hilarious video, which included cameo appearances from the likes of Sheridan Smith and Russell Tovey, has currently been viewed on YouTube by nearly 650,000 people.
Comedy in musical theatre always works well, and adding a touch of originality to the combination has produced some very special and memorable moments over the years. One person who is very adept at merging the three is former Les Miserables star Scott Garnham. He has performed at numerous concert and cabaret events, as well as hosting his own, and can usually be counted on to deliver a tuneful chuckle. Some may remember his alternate version of Bon Jovi’s ‘It’s My Life’, which he infused with a distinctive musical theatre flavour, for example. Or how about his barbershop quartet-style pop medley with Jay Bryce, Martin Neely and Martin Seadon Young? He also exceeded expectation when I challenged him to come up with a Les Mis-themed ’12 Days of Christmas’ for the Les Mis Gives…at Christmas cabaret in December 2011. ‘The 12 Days of Les Mis’ included such amusing Christmas ‘gifts’ as six different Valjeans, three month contracts and 26 years of misery.
Garnham is now putting that comic, creative mind of his to work again with an idea he is campaigning for on the public fundraising site indiegogo. Previous guests at his cabarets may have already heard his ‘Self Indulgent Ballad’, the song which is the focal point of this project (you can see Scott perform ‘Self Indulgent Ballad’ on YouTube). It was an idea that first took root a few years ago, when a conversation between he and then Les Mis co-star Hadley Fraser at the Queen’s Theatre planted the seed of inspiration. As Garnham describes it: “We got on to the subject of musical theatre albums and artistes that released them and we found that on the whole most albums contained all the classic ballads you’d expect and how funny it would be to just be refreshingly honest and call your album ‘Self Indulgent Ballad’…… An idea was born!!”
‘Self Indulgent Ballad’ is the resultant song, which was created by Garnham and co-composer Steven Luke Walker. If you don’t know the name, you should. A brilliant composer with limitless potential, my first ever published review was his 2011 concert, The Songs of Steven Luke Walker, which featured a selection of original material performed by such West End names as Gina Beck, Rebecca Lock, Jon Robyns, Samantha Bark and the Strallen sisters – and Scott Garnham, who sang one of my favourite songs of the night, ‘Justice Be Done’. ‘Self Indulgent Ballad’, which has been expertly arranged by MD Niall Bailey, has been met with success by fans who have heard it performed by Garnham already, and now he is looking to take it further by making a professional recording at Berry Street Studios in October with some ‘amazing musicians and vocalists’, which will be accompanied by the filming of a full-on comic music video the following month. The finished product will be revealed at an exclusive launch event in December, after which the song will be available on iTunes and digital download.
Garnham’s fundraising target for this project is £4,000. Pledges from fans and supporters of the project have already taken him to over £500, with a month left to hit that goal. In return for these monetary contributions, he is offering an array of special reward ‘perks’ which increase in value in proportion to the donation made. These range from a free song download (£5), to such additional perks and experiences as signed artwork (£25), tickets to the launch and entry to a VIP meet and greet (£75), appearing in the music video (£100), a day in the recording studio (£125) and finally, credit as an executive producer (£350).
Original comedy musical theatre songs have proven successful in recent years. Michael Bruce’s ‘Portrait of a Princess’ has become a YouTube sensation and Chris and Amy Passey’s ‘Stagey & Proud’, originally written for Chloe Hart’s debut cabaret, was performed by Sheridan Smith live on stage at the 2013 WhatsOnStage Awards. With the riotous touch of Scott Garnham’s own brand of comedy genius, ‘Self Indulgent Ballad’ could also be another success story of the genre, promoting not only the musical theatre industry, but also giving Garnham’s writing and comedy career a healthy boost. Originality, as I said, is something to be wholeheartedly supported in this business, in whatever form it may take. English philosopher John Stuart Mill once said that: “All good things which exist are the fruits of originality.” There seems to have become an increasing number of ‘fruit bearers of originality’ emerging in musical theatre, and if everyone helps to tend the fields of imagination, then we can all reap the benefits of the sweet fruits they produce.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 19th September 2013