New writing is an important and necessary component when it comes to the future of musical theatre. The recent documentary series on BBC4, The Story of Musicals, highlighted the evolution of the genre over the years and how vital this development is to ensure the West End continues to thrive and grow in a healthy, well-rounded manner. As beneficial as the jukebox musicals and film-adapted musical are for the industry, new and unknown writing is desperately needed to keep things fresh and exciting, instead of safe and familiar. Support for new writing has been steadily growing, especially in this last year, and with the increase of talented musical theatre writers emerging in the UK, that support is peaking higher than it ever has in recent years. Travelling along that same thread, there are two events approaching which, In terms of relevance for new writing, are ones to take note of.
Mercury Musical Development is well known in musical theatre circles, born from the merger of The Musical Workshop and The New Musical Alliance in 1999. The organisation, which includes Dame Judi Dench as one of its patrons, is now an established platform for encouraging new writing, through its presentation of full-scale productions and showcases, running workshops and assisting in the development of new works, among other things. Last year they (and the Gate Theatre) worked with another renowned supporter of new writing, SimG Productions, on Beyond The Gate; a musical theatre revue based around the theme of Ancient Greece to showcase the songwriting talents of a selection of both established and new writers, from Don Black and Richard Stilgoe to Dougal Irvine and Tim Sutton. An album of the revue was later released on the SimG Record label and was very well received.
Now, MMD and SimG are revisiting their fruitful association with a new event this month. Running at the Soho Theatre for just one week, A Song Cycle for Soho is a musical song cycle that explores Soho’s rich history. It will once again showcase a mix of established and new British writers who are all submitting original compositions of work – writers confirmed to be involved include Douglas Hodge, Christopher Hamilton, Stuart Matthew Price, Dougal Irvine, Susannah Pearse, Tim Sutton and Stiles & Drewe. In a nice turn of events, returning writers such as Irvine, who were last year in the new and unknown category, are now widely considered to be more established, showing very positive signs of progression for the new writing cause. Simon Greiff (of SimG Productions) is to direct the song cycle, with musical direction from Sarah Travis and a book by MMD member Andrew Brinded. Leading West End stars Claire Moore (London Road, Miss Saigon), James Gillan (Wicked, Peter Pan), Michael Cantwell (Passion, Assassins) and Niamh Perry (Love Never Dies, Mamma Mia) have been confirmed as the full company for the song cycle, which takes place at the end of this month in the theatre’s underground venue, Soho Downstairs.
Over the course of musical theatre history, there have been some tremendously successful composing duos: Rogers and Hammerstein, the Gershwin Brothers, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and, in more recent years, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Over the last eighteen months though, a new writing team has been garnering attention: Anderson & Petty. Broadway actor and singer Barry Anderson has worked as a NYC-based composer, accompanist, and musical director for the past 10 years. London-based Mark Petty was previously a member of a pop group before moving into the composing side of the industry. The two met in the summer of 2010 and the results of their collaboration have been steadily gaining recognition from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean since then. After a sold-out debut concert in New York in 2011, a wide range of their songs have been performed regularly in both New York and London cabarets , including the annual MADTrust concert A West End Christmas where Wicked star Kieran Brown sang ‘Christmas Eve’ backed up by a choir of MTA students/alumni. Now, Anderson & Petty are making their full London debut with an exclusive one night only concert of their music this March. A Night of Anderson and Petty is to be held in the Delfont Room at Prince of Wales Theatre, with a host of West End stars performing thirteen of their songs. The line-up is still to be announced but fellow new writer Chris Passey, who released his debut album Self Taught, Still Learning last year, has been announced as a special guest for the evening to show two of his own compositions. A selection of Anderson & Petty’s work was recently showcased at Passey’s cabaret, An Evening With Chris Passey and Friends, at the Leicester Square Theatre – with such a small current market for new work, it’s always wonderful to see writers supporting one another instead of treating each other as competition. The students of the Guildford School of Acting (GSA) and the Musical Theatre Academy (MTA) will also be taking part in the evening’s performances.
There is always the opportunity to support new writing, whether by pledging to a fundraising project, buying a ticket to a production/cabaret or even something as simple as word of mouth. A Song Cycle for Soho and A Night of Anderson and Petty provide two great opportunities to show much-needed support for this integral area of the musical theatre industry – I hope to see plenty of theatre fans taking them.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 7th February 2012