Chris Grady: A sneak preview of new musicals

Acclaimed composer/orchestrator Jason Carr (Sunday in the Park at the Menier Chocolate Factory) and I were invited to see five new musicals in cabaret/sneak preview last night.

We then offered some instant public comments to the writers who each, quite reasonably, faced us slightly like they might a firing squad, and then met with them in private to talk a little more about the pieces. This is part of a frequent open showing of new work from The Scenic Route, created by Tammy Mendelson and compered by Nick Pegden.

The audience gathered in a rather lovely back pub space mainly used, if the neon is an indication, for pole dancing. A mirrored ceiling and good sound system came as standard (check out the Wenlock and Essex, up from the Angel tube).

Interspersed with the main pieces – each of which came as four songs and a short narration – there were solo songs performed by writers from their shows in development. Overall the audience of other writers, performers, and new musical theatre lovers heard 29 songs and had the pleasure of watching us trying to give public feedback… which is never easy.

What made the event special were three things: (i) the calibre of some of the writing was excellent and there are at least a couple of pieces I really hope will reach full production in a major house; (ii) the universally fine calibre of the performers including very recent graduates through to one of the UK’s most important musical theatre voices, and someone who should be a massive star, Nigel Richards [see other blogs on my pet concern about the lack of championing of top performers]; and (iii) the fact that the work submitted and selected is not just UK writers but also work by European voices. We had a piece from Finland and another by Dutch writers that has been produced in Germany and Austria.

We as assessors of new work were able, in a tiny pub in Islington for £7, to begin understanding what is being written across the UK, what ideas are being explored, and most especially how the musical palette changes in different markets. Fascinating.

Whilst 50 members of the press were cheering (I hope) the European premiere of Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s Titanic at Southwark Playhouse, produced by the amazing Danielle Tarento, we were looking to the future, to see which small craft might steer a path to that same theatre.

I look forward to listening to more of a couple of the works – but not before my next piece of “immersive theatre”, when I will no doubt be occasionally punchdrunk. I refer of course to ten days in Edinburgh; 47 shows booked, two days of panel discussions and events, entertaining two senior executives from Japan, spending half a day on a new Scottish musical, and half a day exploring a new Gaellic theatre company.

That’ll be August sorted, then.