The worlds of globally famous recording artists and stage musicals may seem very far apart, but they are far more connected than many people think. There are also a number of well-known music makers who are actively involving themselves in the creative process of bringing a new musical to the stage, with Elton John now working on a biopic musical after having previously collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice on two West End shows (The Lion King and Aida) and with Lee Hall on Billy Elliot. Boy George offers another example, having contributed music/lyrics for the musical Taboo, which draws heavily from the pop star’s life and is currently enjoying a new lease of life in the revival at the Brixton Clubhouse. The trend of jukebox musicals is a growing one too, with the emergence of more and more musicals based on either the songs of a particular band/singer (ABBA – Mamma Mia, Michael Jackson – Thriller, Queen – We Will Rock You, The Spice Girls – Viva Forever!) or a collection of popular songs of a certain genre (pop – Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, rock – Rock of Ages). Turning well-known bands’ concept albums into stage musicals has also been utilised, such as with Green Day’s 2004 album American Idiot. It premiered on Broadway in 2010 and won two Tony Awards the same year. The UK tour of the show opened at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton just this week and continues its travels around the country until December, with a West End transfer rumoured to follow.
American Idiot was partly inspired by another band’s concept album. In 1969, English rock band The Who released their double album rock opera Tommy, which has subsequently sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Composed predominantly by Pete Townsend, Tommy tells the story of a boy who becomes deaf, dumb and blind after witnessing a traumatic event, and later ends up publically idolised as a pinball champion. After a film adaption by Ken Russell in 1975, it was turned into a stage musical with music/lyrics by Townsend, who also worked with Des McAnuff on the book. John Entwistle and Keith Moon created additional songs for the show. It first appeared in California (1992) and then made its Broadway debut the following year. It won five Tony awards during its run there, with the 1996 London production also earning its accolades with three Olivier awards, including one for ‘Best Musical Revival’.
Tommy is now set to make a return to London in a one-night-only exclusive concert at the Prince Edward Theatre on 12th November 2012. Some casting news has already been released, with West End leading man Daniel Boys set to star as ‘Captain Walker’ alongside Hannah Jane Fox (‘Mrs Walker’) and Zoe Birkett (‘The Acid Queen’). Boys was a contestant on BBC talent search show Any Dream Will Do in 2007 and has since become an established musical theatre performer thanks to his roles in Avenue Q and Peter Pan. Fox is best known for playing ‘Scaramouche’ in We Will Rock You, but has also appeared in such shows as Rent and Taboo. Birkett first shot to fame at just 16 on the original series of Pop Idol (2002), going on to make a name for herself on the stage in such shows as Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.
Raz Shaw will direct the performance, with choreography by Adam Cooper, musical direction by Andrew Hilton and musical supervision by Iain Vince Gatt. Tommy – in Concert is being staged as a charity fundraiser in aid of the Pure Theatre Development Fund, which was founded to support the development of new writing for both musical and straight theatre.
A new musical has to draw creative inspiration from somewhere, and there is a rich source of it to be found in those CD collections. Though the two may seem to be very separate entities, music is music at the end of the day and the continual success of their connection to one another speaks volumes. There are stage productions born of this parentage to be found all over the West End and their children are certainly doing mummy and daddy proud.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 11th October 2012