BWW INTERVIEWS: Leighton James House and Shaun McKenna
If sci-fi and songs are your thing, you'll want to hear the new album featuring songs from Only You Can Save Mankind. Based on the book by Terry Pratchett and with music by Leighton James House and lyrics by Shaun McKenna, the show received rave reviews at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe. The new recording features West End stars including Kerry Ellis, Sharon D Clarke, Zubin Varla, Oliver Tompsett and Daniel Boys.
10 per cent of the profits will be donated to the Alzheimer's Research Trust, where Terry Pratchett is patron. A full production of the musical will tour the UK?in 2010, to be followed by a West?End transfer - but what took them so long to move from festival fringe to star-studded studio? Carrie Dunn met the composer and the lyricist to find out...
How did you get the idea of adapting the book into a musical?
LEIGHTON: I was working on a show, George's Marvellous Medicine, a young person's show, with my co-producer Sarah Broadhurst. We were looking at getting a similar name to get audiences in, and I'd read an awful lot of Terry Pratchett's books, and something about Only You Can Save Mankind screamed out at me as being a stage show. It sang at me from the page. That's where I began. Shaun came on board swiftly after that and we started adapting the project into a musical theatre book.
It did well at Edinburgh.
LEIGHTON: It did. It got great critical reviews, and was well-attended at the festival, which is not easy - we were in quite a big venue - but it was a great success up there. And then we paused.
Yes - why is now the right time for the UK tour and then go to the West End?
LEIGHTON: We had a pause. At that moment in time, musical theatre wasn't quite ready for an original score, music that isn't from someone's back catalogue - and I'm not saying that in a derogatory way - but it wasn't quite right then.
SHAUN: It's incredibly different to do a new show that isn't a revival or a jukebox show at the moment, or something that's bright and funny and fluffy. Though Only You Can Save Mankind is bright and energetic and jolly, it's not fluffy. It's got a bit of substance to it.
SHAUN: That was 2004. So that's five years of really hard slog, and they stood back to take a breath, and then waited. I did Lord of the Rings, and as far as I knew, Only You Can Save Mankind stopped in Edinburgh, and I was really sorry about that. I thought it was an amusing show, with something to say, with great songs, that was funny, topical, logical, young...but shows die along the way sometimes. Sometimes they come back. I got an email from Leighton earlier this year saying, "Hey, guess what? It's all happening again."
There's a charity element to the recording as well.
LEIGHTON: Terry has been very supportive and I'm very fortunate in that respect, and he's very passionate about the project. Obviously now it's being adapted and Sky are taking control of Discworld and do fantastic work. Because we have a non-Discworld title here I think Terry's very happy that something else, not the obvious one for him, it's having another life. The trilogy - all about a boy called Johnny Maxwell - has turned into television series as well. The really important thing is that if we're going to put ourselves out there, we need the best people we can, which we've done on this album with the singers we've got. We need to get the songs known. It was done so successfully with Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar in the Seventies, so we're doing it that way. We're taking it and doing a modern interpretation of the songs. It's not a cast or concept album, really, it's just the songs, and we're enjoying revisiting them and giving them that slightly less musical theatre edge.
You have got an amazing line-up of singers for the album. How did you get them together?
SHAUN: Leighton is a whirlwind, a phenomenon, and I'm incredibly impressed. Pure dogged determination and hard work. And the material's good, so when he takes it to these people, they say yes.
LEIGHTON: We have written good stuff - I don't like to blow my own trumpet, but it is strong material. Secondly, it's an original musical, and these people are as passionate about that as any of us. They're musical theatre performers and they want that side of it to succeed. And obviously Terry's changed over the last few years and the public have taken him to their hearts, as well as being a great and successful author.