BWW Exclusive: Julie Atherton and Paul Spicer Talk Onstage Acts!
Julie Atherton and Paul Spicer have a long and varied history with new and contemporary musical theatre, both as individuals and as a pair. Together they co-founded Notes from New York, a concert series designed with the intention of introducing London to new musical theatre and making it cool, and celebrated its 5 year anniversary with a fully staged production of Jason Robert Brown's cult musical The Last 5 Years. They were also the original team behind Taking Notes, a summer course developed to share their skills with aspiring actors. This summer, they continue their mission to inspire a new generation of musical theatre performers with Onstage Acts, a week long enrichment programme in new and contemporary musical theatre featuring masterclasses with casting directors, agents, composers and directors, as well as performers currently working in the West End and beyond. Ahead of the course's launch on August 4th, Julie and Paul shared some of their favourite contemporary musical theatre moments from the careers which made them West End theatre's reigning experts on the subject.
What was the moment that first sparked your interest in new and contemporary musical theatre?
Paul: When I first listened to The Last 5 Years during a long car journey in 2002. I hadn't heard music and lyrics like it before. At the time I was on tour and I was trying to find ways of keeping my creative brain alive and I just remember feeling totally inspired. I'd also just seen the London premiere of the Boy George musical Taboo, again a brand new piece and something I fell completely in love with. So much so that I went hell for leather to get cast in it, which I did and I joined the show for the last 3 months of it's West End run. These musicals felt different in the way they existed. Their language, their structure, just felt very easily relatable to me as a 22 year old performer. That year sparked something in me that was the catalyst to us founding the Notes from New York series.
Julie: Same as Paul. It was him that came to me with the last 5 years which started us in our journey to push new work. After hearing that show I really wanted to play a role like that...lucky that I go to...opposite the one and only Paul Spicer!
What is your favourite moment of new musical theatre you've performed on stage so far?
Julie: I guess it's a toss up between Therese Raquin and Avenue Q. Therese Raquin as it's so intense and I get to go through a range of emotions within the piece. The music is so haunting and with Craig's music you can never get bored of it. And Avenue Q, my favourite moment being from mix tape to the end of act 1. It was so much fun playing 2 characters and learning a whole new skill.
Paul: So many moments! Definitely the final section of The Last 5 Years from 'If I Didn't Believe In You' onwards, was always the moment that the roller coaster you feel you're on in that piece just spirals out of control and the music actually takes you away with it, it's palpable. Also playing Billy in Taboo and singing 'Pie in the Sky' with Euan Morton. He was just astonishing and I learned so much from acting with him. Notes presented Notes in Heels which featured an all female line up of composers including Jenny Giering, Georgia Stitt, Zina Goldrich and Lucy Simon. Something about the way in which we structured that piece really worked, and the different composers' music complimented the others perfectly. It was almost as if one person had written the whole thing, and performing it felt exhilarating. And of course singing Lance Horne's '6 Hours' in New York on stage at Lincoln Center was pretty mind blowing.
Which contemporary musical have you never performed in (or produced) but wish you had?
Paul: As a producer, I've definitely got a production of The Light in the Piazza by Adam Guettel in me. As a performer I would've killed to have been 15 years younger and to have had a crack at Spring Awakening.
Julie: Again I have to agree with Paul on Spring Awakening, If I was young enough obviously. And maybe Next to Normal. I haven't seen either show but love the music.
Onstage Acts is a summer course in new and contemporary musical theatre curated by Julie Atherton and Paul Spicer. The course runs from August 4th-8th, and will feature masterclasses from industry professionals including producer and writer Tori Allen-Martin, director Bo Boland, award-winning Donmar Warehouse Composer in Residence Michael Bruce, National Theatre casting director Charlotte Sutton and top agent Wendy Scozzaro, among others. The course will feature material from celebrated contemporary musical theatre composers such as Broadway's Pasek and Paul, Emmy award-winning Lance Horne, and Gianni Onori, composer of the only British musical to be featured at this years New York International Fringe Festival, and will culminate in a semi-staged showcase. Full application details and more information can be found at www.onstageacts.com