Words and Music are Allies in BuryDate: 16 June 2010
There’s a recession on both sides of the Atlantic. The arts are as vulnerable as any other economic section and some interesting partnerships are being generated to sponsor both new and on-going initiatives.
One such involves the enterprising Restoring the Repertoire programme at Bury St Edmunds’ Georgian Theatre Royal and the Cambridge University Press, whose pedigree dates from the 16th century. The theatre, imaginatively restored by the National Trust three years ago, has already staged five revivals of 18th and 19th century plays. Now it is the turn of The Poor Soldier by [John O’Keeffe] with music by William Shield.
This was originally performed at London’s Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1783, just after a peace treaty had concluded the War of American Independence. It was a hit in New York two years later and reportedly was a favourite with George Washington, which allows it a claim to be the original Broadway musical. It even inspired the first fully American play in the professional theatre, Royall Tyler’s The Contrast, which has characters watching a performance of The Poor Soldier.
The title character returns from the war only to find that the girl he left behind has other suitors, including an English officer and a French servant. Of course, everything comes right in the end and is helped along by a score which includes elements of the ballad operas so popular at the time. Shield, with 50 operas – including a very successful Robin Hood in 1783 – as well as instrumental pieces and textbooks on musical theory to his credit, ended his days as Master of the King’s Music and O’Keeffe’s Wild Oats has been frequently revived.
CUP supports a wide range of community cultural projects in towns and cities both nationally and internationally. Its chief executive [Stephen Bourne says that “Cambridge has had a long-standing commitment to theatre studies through publishing literary criticism, history and, of course, plays from antiquity to the present day. This makes it a great delight for us to be able to help bring them back to the stage – and what a stage! – where they belong.
“Support for the arts is understandably being squeezed at present, so organisations such as Cambridge University Press have an important role to play in helping maintain a vibrant literary and performance culture here in the East of England”. The Poor Soldier is directed by Colin Blumenau, opens on 29 June and runs until 3 July 2010. The production will go on tour in the spring of 2011.
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