On behalf of Carn’s Theatre Passion, Sarah Tinsley attended the press preview event for the three-week new musicals festival From Page to Stage, which opened yesterday and runs until 3 September 2017 at The Other Palace in London…
There was an early morning buzz at The Other Palace, which opened in February this year as ‘the home of musical theatre.’ We are here for the launch of From Page to Stage, a fantastic musical theatre festival which showcases new shows from all over the world. This is the brainchild of Katy Lipson, and the festival has been running for five years. This year, the bigger and more prestigious location of The Other Palace brings this eclectic mix of talent to a much wider audience.
With over 60 cast members and 50 composers, the festival boasts an impressive range of talent, all collaborating to produce new musicals. Some are family friendly, while others tackle thorny issues, like XY by Oliver Houser, which explores the life of a transgendered male. Thanks to Katy’s tireless funding efforts, all of the shows are affordable and accessible, meaning everyone will find something to suit them.
The showcase musical for the festival is Some Lovers, a production by award-winning writer Steven Sater (Spring Awakening) and the legendary Burt Bacharach. At the opening event, we were treated to a song from the show called Love Me For an Hour. The style of the music very much reflects the story of the show – we see the development of a relationship over twenty years, through both the younger and older version of the same couple. In the younger version, the couple are giddy with the prospects of new love, and the lilting melody reflects this, while their older counterparts offer a more solid and thoughtful melodic line, showing the way their perspective has shifted after years of being together.
It’s described as a ‘valentine to New York,’ but writer Steven Sater says it offers something much more than that. Steven, who describes himself as “The lucky fool that got to write songs with Burt Bacharach”, talked about the way Some Lovers offered a different perspective on a relationship. He said that most stories are about finding love, and that the realisation of that love is often the ending. However, “this is about neither the beginning nor the ending, but the pain of the middle and the difficulty of trying to make a relationship work.” Having the older couple constantly looking over the shoulder of the youngsters means that we are reminded of the gap between past and present.
In general, the songs are hugely influenced by the looming presence that the past can have in the current moment. Steven spoke of how much Burt Bacharach’s songs meant to him in childhood, and that he always found the echo of the past in his songs. In their collaborations, he talked of how they kept returning to the same ideas: “so many songs Burt and I were writing seemed to express that mid-relationship disaffection.” Another source of inspiration was The Gift of the Magi, a touching short story by O. Henry that tells of a newly married couple and the sacrifices they make for each other. As we are told in the story, ‘love and large-hearted giving, when added together, can leave deep marks.’ Using this as a starting point, Steven wanted to find out “what happened after they’d made those noble sacrifices, twenty years in.”
The story of Steven’s beginnings in writing is extraordinary. While living in a third story apartment, he woke to find it on fire. The only option was to jump from the window, which left him alive but hospitalised, where he was turned every two hours. He was told at the time that he must have been saved for a reason. In his own words, he decided from that point on that he wanted to “create things that will last.” Amazingly, he had a device rigged up that meant he could turn pages with his teeth, and in this manner read almost 60 novels and taught himself ancient Greek. Ever since then, creating stories has been his life.
Best possible teachers?
For his own writing, he says he surrounds himself with ‘the best possible teachers’ – taking a glut of books with him wherever he goes. He is currently working on a range of projects, and advised budding writers to “trust your own gut,” saying that “when you really cry from the truth of your own heart it touches every other heart.”
I also spoke to Ben Richards, who plays the older version of the male character, Ben, in the show. For him, it was the opportunity to work with one of his heroes, Burt Bacharach. He also spoke of the privilege of working with such a renowned writer as Steven Sater, and how lucky he’d been to work closely with Steven in the rehearsal process. For him, the nature of it being a ‘four hander’ brought it’s own disciplines and difficulties, which he found pushed him as a performer, and made the show even more exciting. The way he would describe the show is that it’s “a reminder of why you’re together and to remember that, don’t let the other stuff get in the way.” As a father of a two-year-old, he’s experienced the shift in a relationship that parenthood brings, which means the show was even more relevant to him. You might recognise Ben from Holby City, The Bill, or more recently Hollyoaks. For him, being on a live stage is a great experience: “I love the fact that I can get the buzz of a live audience, the working process of the company.” For those who aspire to join him in treading the boards, he thinks that “if it’s in your blood, you’ll do anything to do it.”
While there are many opportunities for different showcases and staged readings over the course of the festival, Some Lovers is a fully realised musical. For the audience, the performers and the writers, this is a chance to experience a fresh musical on the stage. Steven Sater spoke of the unique opportunity to “experience it in front of an audience,” and how important it is to be releasing it in London, where “Burt is so beloved.” On an emotional level, he wants audiences to leave the theatre with hope. “It’s such a dark crazy, chaotic, almost rudderless time. I want people to feel they can have faith in themselves and faith in the love they feel in their hearts.”
With such talent and emotion at the heart of the show, Some Lovers is sure to be a thought-provoking an emotional experience for all audiences.
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