Brand new British musicals are very few and far between but there is one premiering in Yorkshire right now. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad reports.
At the White Rose Awards, held at the Leeds First Direct Arena earlier this month, something unprecedented happened.
The awards ceremony, held to celebrate all things White Rose, saw bestowed upon two men the title of Honorary Yorkshiremen.The travesty was that these two men hail from – whisper it – the wrong side of the Pennines.
Gary Barlow, he of Take That fame and Tim Firth, he of Calendar Girls the movie fame, are both natives of the red rose county.
Why did these two Lancastrians find themselves awarded such a great honour? Well, the two of them are responsible for a seriously significant event we are about to experience in Yorkshire theatre. They are the men bringing The Girls to the stage.
Given the number of musicals we see in our theatres around Yorkshire, you may be surprised that such significance is attached to the world premiere of The Girls, the new British musical based on the story of the Rylstone WI women – but consider this. The musicals you see, Shrek at Leeds Grand Theatre, Mary Poppins and Wicked, both coming to Bradford Alhambra next year, already exist.
Even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Christmas spectacular, is a new production of a pre-existing musical. Creating a brand new musical is a seriously expensive business. Barlow and Firth have been at this one for four years and have written in excess of 60 songs, only around a dozen of which make it into the show.
All that time costs plenty – it is also absolutely necessary to get the show just right. There’s no formula for writing a foot-tapping song for a musical – even Sondheim had his flops. The only way to crack it is through trial and error and trial and error is an expensive business.
When he wrote Jerry Springer the Opera, Stewart Lee told me in the past that he was virtually bankrupted by the experience.
Barlow and Firth might have the means to support themselves, but the show is funded by a group of investors brought in by producer David Pugh. Whether or not those investors get their money back will be a mark of success or failure.
Earlier this year Pugh told me: “The reason new British musicals are so few and far between is because they are so expensive. This musical is costing £3.4m. So you can see why this is actually pretty daunting.” Daunting indeed.
Now for the good news. As well as time to get the pre-production right, a new musical needs time to bed itself into a theatre. It began previewing last Saturday and officially opens on December 1.
I will be reviewing it for The Yorkshire Post on the official opening night, but I have heard from people who have already seen the show. I’ll share my professional opinion once I’ve seen it, but the news appears to be good – there have been tears, laughter and standing ovations for the previews thus far. If this new British musical, born and forged in Yorkshire, is a success then we will have yet another reason to be proud of our county. So proud, in fact, that we might even be able to stomach making two Lancastrians honorary Yorkshiremen.
The Girls, the Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre to December 12.