I was surprised and quite pleased the other day to read that Florence Welch is about to take a year off to write a musical. If you don’t know Florence’s work you really should. She is the woman in front of Florence and the Machine and a writer of some excellent songs. As soon as I read it the idea of Florence writing a musical made perfect sense. (source) Her songs are full of stories, powerful emotions and her stage performances always have a theatrical edge. I sometimes feel there is a complicated narrative behind the music and that we are only getting a glimpse of the whole thing. She says she is going to work with an old friend Sophie Hart-Walsh and that they have been planning this for years.I thought she was very astute when she said that first she needed some time off from touring as if she wrote something now it would just be about hotel rooms, tour buses and concerts. I’m really hoping what she comes up with does make it to the West End stage but I’m afraid she might find it a bumpy ride.
What Ever Happened to …….. (insert the pop icon of your choice)’s Musical?
Here is the problem. We have some wonderfully gifted and talented writers of pop music but making the transition from pop icon to successful writer of musicals is almost impossible. Many have tried and few have succeeded.This is not including those people whose music has provided the basis for musicals, there are far more of those and that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean writing a genuine original score for a new musical and getting it into the West End and/or Broadway.
Let’s start with Yusuf/Cat Stevens. His musical Moonshadow has been on the edge of production for several years now but if anything at the moment seems less likely to make it than it did this time last year. A segment of the show was included as part of his concert tour but was not, in the main, liked by fans. The show has a mix of old and new songs so not quite a jukebox musical, yet not quite original either. It was supposed to go into a London theatre this year but it just hasn’t happened. Last heard of in May 2012 playing in Melbourne for a short run I fear we’ve seen the last of it. Here‘s a link to the Australian site for the show
Then there is Ray Davies’ Come Dancing. It was well received when it played the Theatre Royal Stratford and went on tour. I loved it enough to go twice! I just worried that the production relied too much on Davies’ narration. It was never going to be possible to get him to perform 8 shows a week in the West End and hard to see how someone else could take his place. A major re-write would have been needed and that has not happened. Shame, a lovely show with some great original songs and a good plot. I particularly liked the song about moving to Milton Keynes! However, we are more likely to see a Kinks jukebox musical than a production of Come Dancing, which is a shame.
What about Lily Allen (or Lily Rose Cooper as we are now to call her) then? Well, she wrote the music and lyrics for Bridget Jones the Musical which has been in pre-production since 2009. It was supposed to open in the West End in 2012 but has now been pushed back to 2013. This is supposed to be because of difficulties with Sherridan Smith’s schedule. So this still might see the light of day, maybe. I do hope so because Allen’s lyrics are likely to be smart and sassy. I think Allen’s wit will be really great combined with the Bridget Jones story.
Surely those grand old men of rock the Who and Quadrophenia might fair better. Erm, no. This show started life as a ‘concept album’, though to be fair it was the 70s and that was considered new and innovative then. It finally made it on to stage and had a successful life as a touring musical back in 2009. It still hasn’t found a home in the West End. Another shame I think, as this is a good plot, excellent music and did well on tour. I have hopes it might make it, someday.
Now what about one that did make it? Ghost had music and lyrics by legendary pop and rock writers Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard. The show had a good preview run in Manchester before coming to the Piccadilly Theatre. Ghost ran from April 2011 until October of this year and has now gone on tour. Whilst it might not be classed as a huge hit the show has done well and even made it to Broadway. The main difference is perhaps that Ghost is based on a popular film not something Stewart came up with by himself. The story is not original and even the most famous song in the show (Unchained Melody) is not penned by Stewart.
Then there was James Bourne, once of the boy band Busted. His musical Loserville, did indeed make it into the Garrick but only for a fairly brief visit. The show was loosely based on an album called Welcome To Loserville, which Bourne’s band Son Of Dork released in 2005. Widely panned by the critics the show only ran a few months and finishes tonight. The show did (still does on Facebook!) have a devoted following but they were not enough to sustain the size of audience a West End theatre needs to make its money. How did his show get into the West End when so many fail? Someone, somewhere thought it might make money. Now that it has failed it seems even less likely that investors will risk another punt on pop talent.
Of course none of this applies to the one writer who has made the transition very successfully, Elton John. With The Lion King and Billy Elliot in his oeuvre John shows that the move from pop to the West End stage is possible. However John is not and never was a lyricist. He writes music and he is used to collaborating with a writer. He does not try to do everything and I think that might be a bit of a temptation for pop artists.
So there’s the nub of the problem. Florence et al., might be wonderfully talented and their shows may be visionary, new, original and worth seeing. The trouble is someone has to come up with a huge financial investment and take an enormous risk to put them into the West End. In the current economic climate I think we will continue to see more jukebox musicals and adaptations of successful works from other genres and few original works by pop artists.
I’d love to be wrong 🙂