Theatre Royal Stratford East’s acclaimed new musical The Big Life will return home in the new year ahead of a planned West End transfer (See The Goss, 10 Sep 2004). The musical, which transports Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost to 1950s London and sets it to a ska musical score, was first seen for a month-long run this past April/May (See News, 8 Apr 2004). It will return for a limited run from 4 February 2005.

On the Windrush over from the Caribbean to England, a pact is made by a group of men not to get involved with women for three years whilst they ‘institute a regime of work and betterment’. Each man’s resolve is tested as one by one they fall prey to Cupid’s arrow. With 1950s period-style music, The Big Life charts the story of the Caribbean immigrants in their quest for a better life in Britain and their struggle to find work, homes and acceptance in their adopted country.

Members of the original cast will reprise their roles, including: Jason Pennycooke (Simply Heavenly, Golden Boy, Rent), Claudia Cadette (Rent), Chris Tummings (Buddy), Geoff Aymer, Marcus Powell, Victor Romero Evans, Yaa, Amanda Horlock and Neil Reidman. The Big Life is directed by actor Clint Dyer, who made his theatrical directorial debut with the show, and designed by Jenny Tiramani, with lighting by Gerry Jenkinson.

Unlike the earlier hip-hop musical Da Boyz, Stratford East’s 2003 updating of Rodgers and Hart's 1938 The Boys from Syracuse based on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, The Big Life is completely original, borne out of Stratford East’s Musical Theatre initiative. It has a book by Royal Shakespeare Company literary manager Paul Sirett and a score by Paul Joseph, lead singer of reggae band Nazarites, which is performed by a live five-piece band on stage.

Commenting on the show’s return, Theatre Royal artistic director Kerry Michael said: “It’s an important story from recent British history told in a wonderful, joyous way. Demand the first time was overwhelming, with many people not able to get tickets. That is why we’re bringing it back.”

Philip Hedley, who stepped down as artistic director earlier this year (See News, 10 Sep 2004), said, “In my 25 years at Stratford East, I have never known a show that has generated such a strong feeling from its audience. They wanted to come back and bring their family and friends to it.” A statement added that the show is “still down to go to the West End within six months, but fans of The Big Life have decided they can’t wait that long”.

- by Terri Paddock