TV Series That Inspired DOWNTON ABBEY to Hit the Stage
Composer Stephen Endelman has acquired the rights to the iconic 1970s ITV drama Upstairs Downstairs. The show, the precursor to DOWNTON ABBEY that aired for more than ten years, is being revived as a stage musical.
Endelman (De-Lovely) nabbed the rights from co-creator John Whitney after striking up a friendship with his daughter, Fiona. Endelman traveled to the Whitneys' home in Dorset to personally obtain the blessing from a man he calls "one of the bastions of British entertainment."
Endelman, who beat cancer, came out of a three-month coma a few years ago and the first thing he wanted to do was "watch reruns of Upstairs Downstairs." When he first became friends with Fiona Whitney, he said he always wanted to make Upstairs Downstairs into a musical.
Fiona Whitney explains, "I knew that he respects the property. I felt comfortable with Stephen; we have similar backgrounds and understand each other."
"I speak on behalf of myself and the other creators of Upstairs Downstairs - Dame Eileen Atkins, Jean Marsh and the Hawkesworth estate - that we are truly thrilled to have entrusted our beloved Upstairs Downstairs with my daughter Fiona Whitney and her partner Stephen Endelman to turn it into a musical," says John Whitney.
Hedge fund founder Reagan Silber, the only U.S. native involved so far, is producing the musical, which will hold workshops in Los Angeles in November, and London in January. Other financial partners will become involved as the project develops.
He and his colleagues believe that the themes of Upstairs Downstairs naturally resonate with current events. "Other than technology, there's very little difference between what is happening in the world today and what was going on then," Endelman says of the show, which will use the classic Upstairs Downstairs characters to tell an original story set in 1911-12. "We're still fighting; we still have a class system. I'm interested in exploring the genesis."
When asked whether she feels an audience will embrace a musical about a show set in the early 1900's, producer Fiona Whitney commented, "Audiences are currently embracing a musical that is set almost 250 years ago (Hamilton)."
More About Upstairs Downstairs:
Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, two actress friends in the 1970's originally brought the show Behind the Green Baize Door to the table as a comedy. That followed the story of two housemaids (played by Marsh and Atkins) serving in a Victorian house in the country, eventually the upstairs were incorporated into the show because as Marsh said "servants have to serve somebody." The actress/writers later took the show to a development company called Sagitta, run by John Whitney and John Hawkesworth. Whitney and Hawkesworth saw the value in the show and immediately took the comedy element away incorporating the drama by changing the time and the place to an Edwardian house in London set during the first World War.
The show was pitched and loved by quite a few television programmers, but eventually ended up at London Weekend Television where Stella Richman saw potential immediately. After going through a series of name changes, with the help of newly hired script editor Alfred Shaughnessy, the show was eventually named Upstairs Downstairs. Following the life of THE FAMILY Upstairs Richard Bellamy a politician, his wife Lady Marjorie, and two children James and Elizabeth. Downstairs was Frank Hudson (the butler), Miss Bridges, and two central maids, Mary Buck and Rosie Mimms.
During the first season of the show, London Weekend Television had some management changes that left the series shelved for almost six months. Shortly after they were given a slot late night and were instantly a hit with television critics. The show went on to win seven Emmys, a Golden Globe and an Ivor Novello for its theme music. Upstairs Downstairs has aired in 70 countries around the world to over one billion viewers.