BWW Interview: Hugh Wooldridge Talks THE BEST OF... ROCK MUSICALS
Next week, London's Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith will play host to The Best of... Rock Musicals. Raising money in aid of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, the two concerts bring together stars from the West End and beyond.
The concerts also mark the 20th Anniversary production from director Hugh Wooldridge and the team behind The Night of 1000 Voices. Sharing his excitement ahead of next Sunday, Hugh also reveals what's in store for audiences on the night, from host Tim Rice to a whole host of other familiar faces...
What was your first experience of rock musicals?
It was Jesus Christ Superstar. I was sitting upstairs and looking down into the orchestra pit, where Antony Bowles was conducting. I remember watching this tiny man way down there, hence his nickname Ant!
I was lucky, I was brought up in a theatrical family so I was able to see shows. But I had never seen or heard anything like Superstar before. And I've now directed it 13 times, so it's a show I know pretty well.
That musical was so revolutionary for the genre.
Absolutely. Andrew and Tim were so clever, bringing the contemporary sound of rock into musical theatre.
If you think at that time The Beatles were sailing across the world, The Rolling Stones, too. That Mersey beat of three guitars and a drum-kit was ruling the world. So suddenly to hear that sound incorporated into a show was groundbreaking. And thrilling.
Even the title, this idea of adding the word "Superstar". It was so shocking, to put that next to Jesus Christ. That's why nuns would be protesting outside, because it was so offensive. And that, of course, attracted a young audience, who then went in and had this extraordinary time.
We continue to see it being revolutionary - in those days, the orchestra was in the pit and the sound came out of two boxes on either side of the stage. So I'm going to say it was quite tame, because it was in a theatre. But when they did Jesus Christ Superstar for two years at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (and again at the Barbican this year), that was the first time that Superstar had a rock sound system in a theatre. In fact, they actually had part of the Glastonbury sound system.
And that was the first time that that rock score was played at a rock level in a theatre. Revolutionary.
That's what I wanted to do with this concert and that's why we're at the Lyric Hammersmith and not the Royal Albert Hall. For years these songs have been played by musicians sitting in an orchestra pit. Now, here in this rock venue, these rock musical songs may be played at rock anthem levels.
So how did these concerts come about?
These concerts are in aid of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust which supports those affected by depression and mental illness. Last year, two very good friends of mine took their own lives. And I met another chap whose brother had killed himself and he suggested we do a show for young people, to make them aware of this charity for suicide awareness. That's how it came about.
And that's why the young venue came about, too. We're really encouraging young people to come, the charity is subsiding tickets for young people for £10 so that they get to learn about their charity. It's a wonderful organisation and we're so happy to be raising money for them.
So Jesus Christ Superstar (of course) will be on the bill. What other shows can we expect?
It's everything you would hope would be there, really celebrating the last 50 years of rock musicals.
From Hair to the music of Chess, RENT and Next to Normal. But there are also some curve balls, which people won't be expecting. You can't have a whole evening of loud music, you have to have peaks and troughs. And some of the troughs, I think people will be surprised by.
And it's not just the shows, but a whole host of rock musical stars too who are coming together.
Yes! Tim Rice will be hosting on the night. Tim wrote the words of Jesus Christ Superstar and Chess and songs with Disney. He's one of our most prolific writers and so I call him the Godfather of Rock.
It's the most wonderful job for me, because it's like a giant karaoke machine. You choose some of musical theatre's favourite shows, your favourite songs which you think an audience are going to like, you put them in an order which you think they will find interesting, and then you get your favourite singers to come and sing them.
We have the most terrific group of people, we've got Adam Pascal, Kerry Ellis, Judy Kuhn, Debbie Kurup, Kristina Love who's appearing in Tina in Hamburg, Christian Lund, the current Raoul in Copenhagen. So lots of people from all over the world are coming together to join us.
How does this kind of concert all come together then?
We've just started rehearsing with the West End Chorus, which is comprised of 24 young people from the West End. And boy, do they kick out a good sound!
Everything really starts for us next weekend. We meet for the first time on Sunday and the dancers have their first call. We've got two groups of dancers, some from the West End and some from Laine Theatre Arts. The Core Soloists, the backbone of the show, have also got a week to get their material together. Then finally we bring in the people who are in other shows. And then, the audience on the night...
So singers, dancers, sound systems...sounds like a big scale!
And don't forget: we've got the orchestra on stage, we don't hide them away. These are the top session musicians playing in London. You know, I don't think there is a better kit musician of this kind than Mike Smith...and we have Mike Smith! The quality is going to be truly awesome.
I think people will leave having had a really good time. So much so that I hope people who see the afternoon show will say, "Wow! We've got to come back and see the evening show!"