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Composer/Lyricist Alexander S. Bermange on... creating The Route To Happiness

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Alexander S. Bermange is a composer and lyricist, whose works include Plague Over England, Thirteen Days and Murder On Air.

He has also written music and lyrics for Walking On The Sun, Odette, Aladdin and Close Encounters.

His new musical The Route to Happiness, which charts the individual and interweaving experiences of three present-day Londoners in pursuit of their respective dreams, runs at the Landor Theatre from 19-24 February 2013. Here he shares with us his motivation for writing the show...

One of the questions that I have been asked with surprising regularity in recent years has been whether there is a three-person show amongst my musicals. No doubt much of the appeal of such a piece to the directors and producers who asked lay in its stageability and affordability to produce (especially in these economically perilous times), yet I did not have such a “chamber musical” amongst my existing works – and commissions that were coming my way tended to be for larger scale pieces. I gradually came to realise that were I to write such a show, it would have to be done so “on spec”!

The idea of a three-person musical appealed greatly to me - though, I suspect, for different reasons to those that the directors and producers who had planted this seed in my mind had had. I was brought up on the musicals of the 1980s and 1990s, and it was these large-scale big-budget West End productions that aroused my passion for musical theatre and led me to discover less commercial, more intimate shows. Yet in recent years, some of the smaller-scale productions that I had been seeing had been pared-down versions of those very musicals, and for all their inventiveness and imagination, I had often left with the feeling that the reconceiving of these shows had served merely an economic rather than an artistic function. What appealed to me was the idea of writing a piece of musical theatre which not only could be produced simply and economically, but which would have its optimal effect when done so – a musical designed to be presented on a small scale, without the need for special effects or chorus lines, a musical in which the writing was key and the performances could be experienced up close.

Niall Sheehy, Shona White & Cassidy Janson in rehearsals

I had also long held the desire to write a musical in which I could incorporate both the comedic and the “serious” styles that have characterised my work to date. I have often found it a curious irony that, while my comic songs have been so widely broadcast, recorded and performed, my stage works have tended to be rather darker in tone. I was therefore attracted to the idea of creating a musical in which I could utilise my comic writing skills while also aiming for the degree of musical sophistication that I have aspired to in my stage works.

And my vision for my three-person show was to involve three characters who could be characterised by their musical styles, which, though disparate, would nevertheless be able to blend with each other and flow seamlessly between each other so as to create a coherent musical whole.

I hit upon the idea of telling the parallel yet interweaving stories of three individuals in present-day London who are each looking to attain the goal that they feel sure will make their life complete. For one, this is finding love, settling down, and having a family; for another, this is becoming fabulously wealthy; for the other, this is being famous – a theme I was especially eager to incorporate, given our increasingly celebrity–obsessed age.

For Lorna, the older female dreaming of love, the melodic musical theatre style that audiences of many of my previous shows will have come to expect of me seemed appropriate. For the younger Trinity, the wannabe superstar, I was eager to embrace a poppier, slightly more contemporary sound. And for would-be millionaire Marcus, I adopted a more dissonant, discordant and complex style of music which may surprise many who are familiar with my work, but which seemed appropriate to his character. And when the characters sing together (whether because they are with each other, because they are sharing similar sentiments or because parts of their stories are unfolding in parallel), the boundaries of the individual musical styles blur as the voices overlap, thereby hopefully making the overall musical language of the piece cohesive, and creating greater musical interest for both the audience and the performers!

Book-wise, I strove to create a narrative in which the actions of each character affected the lives of the other two, in a way that an audience could relate to, and find parallels with in their own lives. I knew that in devising an original story, I was giving myself an additional challenge, but a series of readings of the work over the course of the past months have proved invaluable in gaining responses to it, so that I could hone the characterisation and the material as was necessary to ensure that they stayed believable and compelling.

By the time of the third reading, I felt that the material was ready to be placed in the hands of a competent director. I had long admired the work of Robert McWhir, and been hugely impressed by the coups he had achieved in mounting the 2012 European premiere productions of musicals by American greats such as Kander and Ebb, and Flaherty and Ahrens. I had also loved the Landor Theatre, of which he is the artistic director, as a space, and thought that it would be perfectly suited to The Route To Happiness. One of the readings of The Route To Happiness had been seen and enjoyed by Katy Lipson, an exciting and prolific young producer. When Robert and Katy decided to team up to present a season of new musical theatre at the Landor, I was honoured that they selected my show to be its focal production.

For this production, we are blessed with three leading musical theatre artists who I have often admired from the stalls (and from in front of my television set!) and who I am now extremely excited to be working with to bring The Route To Happiness to the stage. Cassidy Janson, Niall Sheehy and Shona White have all firmly established themselves as three of today's most exciting musical theatre performers: Cassidy Janson in Lend Me A Tenor, Avenue Q and Wicked; Niall Sheehy on ITV’s Superstar (in which he was a finalist) and in Spamalot and Wicked; and Shona White in Chess, Les Misérables and Wicked. Seeing and hearing my material brought to life by such incredible performers is an exceptionally exciting prospect.

It is my intention that The Route To Happiness will be a show with humour and heart, that amuses you, moves you, and possibly even makes you question your own desires and goals. I look forward to hopefully having the pleasure of accompanying many audience members along this route.


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