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Den Lencester on the past, present and future of Bugle Boy

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Somehow an age ago, I became the booker for Glenn Miller's brother Herb and his UK Orchestra. Later, sitting high up in the gods watching a band rehearsal, it dawned on me I was promoting (even way back then) a tired format and decided there must be a far better way to present his famous brother’s unique music. With Herb feeding me daily actual words spoken by his brother, all I needed was to write a good book about his life and link it with some of his famous tunes and – eureka! – I would have a hit musical on my hands.

Oh, if only it was to have beeen that easy!

Herb told me I would never get permission to use Glenn's music in a stage production – and he was nearly right. It was to be almost another ten years before I got the required permission through PRS in conjunction with the then Glenn Miller Estate in America. My first offering had an amateur production in the 1,500-seat Leeds Grand Theatre. Over the week it played there (unbelievably) each night was virtually full, and always ended with a standing ovation.

I thought I had made it. How wrong can one aspiring playwright be?

The very first Glenn Miller musical cat was out of the theatrical bag and I still had a lot of script polishing and finding the right combination of tunes to balance words with music before the show would be ready for another curtain-up. A far harder and longer process than I ever envisaged. I also decided I needed to make the production as flexible as possible, to so it could play in different styles of venues not only in theatres but on the American college circuit, on cruise liners or in Las Vegas casinos – all with varying budgets to maximise the worldwide potential.

With that in mind I took the show over to America in 2004 to play at a college in Virginia (where the music was piped), then onto Broadway (where the music was played by a selective rhythm section) and where Duke Ellington's granddaughter choreographed the show. I then returned to the UK and eventually set up an amateur production at Port Sunlight on the Wirral where it again attracted great houses and standing ovations. It was then picked up professionally by Bruce James.

Enter stage left my original concept now called Bugle Boy' – the very first and only play of the iconic band-leader’s life where structured dialogue linked with pertinent Glenn Miller tunes goes as naturally together as eggs and bacon. A match made in heaven, where every performance of the show (both here and in America) has received a standing ovation including last October at London’s Garrick Theatre.

The World War Two-uniformed dancers and jeep stopped passer-by in their tracks and brought Trafalgar Square traffic to a stand-still. They drew many a comment that the West End has needed a show to give it back the razzamatazz it has not had for a long time. It may have taken me twice as longer to get it this far from conception than it took Glenn Miller to find his unique unmistakable sound – but now it has, it won’t go away for a very long time.


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