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20 Questions With ... Andrew Buchan

Past/Present/Future for … Richard Thomas

Composer Richard Thomas’ first musical, Jerry Springer - The Opera, attracted awards & protests in equal measure. His current project is scoring Javier de Frutos’ radical dance piece Cattle Call. He’s been commissioned to write the libretto for an opera about Anna Nicole Smith at the Royal Opera House, due in 2010.

By • West End

Past: “Professionally and artistically, Jerry Springer was life-changing, but financially – to quote (the show’s director) Stewart Lee – it was only ‘car-changing’. All the blasphemy stuff and the death threats were a real pain, and they killed it off. I was damned to hell so many times by the end of the tour. I remember someone screaming at me, ‘in the last throes, you will turn to the Lord and it’ll be too late’ – which isn’t even theologically accurate! I slouched away thinking, I just wrote a show, leave me alone and go bother Richard Dawkins.”

Present: “Javier’s stuff is way out there. Cattle Call is a mix between A Chorus Line, Waiting for Godot and Kafka with big ballads. It’s set in a club where people are beating the living daylights out of each other – there’s blood, gore and a killing at the end. I decided to write the most sentimental music I could, which I thought would rub well against Javier’s style. Lore Lixenberg and Adey Grummet from Jerry Springer sing as the dancers do their thing. I know their voices inside out, it’s always a complete pleasure to write for them.”

Future: “Anna Nicole Smith’s tragic life story is a classic American tale about celebrity and the price you pay for trying to escape your roots – it’s intrinsically operatic! People tell me I should write about something ‘worthy’. So I’m going to write an opera about Mother Teresa? Never. It’s inverted snobbery. I like to choose subjects that seem trashy. I find them fascinating and, as you explore them, you learn so much. For instance, did you know that Houston is the breast enhancement capital of the world?”

Cattle Call opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where it runs from 9 to 12 April 2008, and then visits The Lowry in Salford Quays (6-7 May) and Northern Stage in Newcastle (23-24 May). The new Phoenix Dance Theatre piece is choreographed by artistic director Javier de Frutos, who won an Olivier for the West End musical Cabaret.

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