Tell us about the concept of Back to the Musicals.
It’s essentially a concert series and we go back in time from 1940, and every concert is a five-year period of musical theatre. The other thing is it gives performers a chance to shine, because we have a very small cast, only four or five people at a time, so if agents or anyone else wants to come and watch us it’s a very good showcase. I’d been thinking about it for a while because you don’t hear these songs performed very often. I wanted a venue that was really sophisticated, and [The Pheasantry] is just an ideal venue – the space on the stage and the mics and the lights. People can just sit and enjoy it, eat a pizza and have a drink. I wanted that rather than just rocking up and doing it in a Soho bar.
Where do you find the performers?
I trained in Manchester and I’ve been in London for a year, Emma’s on tour with Dreamboats and Petticoats at the moment, Paul is at ArtsEd and Ben graduated a couple of years ago from Trinity. It’s such a panic, especially with boys – me and Emma know each other from Arden, where we trained, so she comes down from tour on the morning of the show, she’s amazing. But the guys who were in the first one have gone and done their own thing since, though I do really appreciate the time people put in. So, boys, if you’re reading…
How do you select the music?
Me and Nick (Chave, the musical director) work collaboratively, he’s amazing as a pianist, just fantastic. We come up with the musical ideas and we try and do a medley – so in the first one, we did a Carousel medley – as it can be a bit tedious to just have song after song. So we work on that, and we try and have little lines from the other songs come in and overlap with that one. We work so well together and get on so well.
Back to the Musicals has its own original theme song that opens each show, how did that come about?
The theme tune came about as I was thinking about the structure of the show – wanting it to have a real ‘showy’ atmosphere and to make it unique and quirky, really. It introduces the audience to us as a company, almost, as well as giving a few little hints about what is coming up in the show. Up and coming writers Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary composed it for us after a brief was sent to them and I really think they’ve done a brilliant job. It’s exactly what I was going for – a bright, music hall feel, lots of personality and great harmonies.
We take it you’re a big fan of the classic musical?
Oh yeah, I think I was born in the wrong era, really. Modern musicals are great – so emotional and they really connect with you, much more easily than this type of music does, but I just love the old stuff. I grew up on it – I didn’t know about Jason Robert Brown until I came to uni, it was Julie Andrews, Judy Garland…
So you’ve covered 1940-55; how many more shows to go?
We’ve done three, our next one is on 11th November, which is 1955-60, so stuff like High Society, The Sound of Music and West Side Story. I think the hardest part has been trying to include enough from each show – not so much that it gets overbearing, but not so little that it doesn’t acknowledge the musical properly. But it will be a really varied set list and I think it will really suit the performers, old and new. Then we get into the whole rock’n’roll era, which is really fun. We’re going to do a Christmas concert with some themed showtunes – things like White Christmas and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (from Meet Me in St Louis) and maybe a few carols. We’ll mix them up a bit. Then hopefully it will go on!
Back to the Musicals 1955-60 is at The Pheasantry, King’s Road, London on 11 November.
Back to the Musicals: A Merry Little Christmas is at The Pheasantry, on 9 December
Image: Jennifer Coyle performing at The Pheasantry.