London Calling with Champagne Charlie 19th April 2009

From a tiny backroom theatre in Edinburgh, Jake Brunger's comic musical take on the airline world Jet Set Go! has had happy audiences experiencing not just great tunes, a snappy plot and a fine new musical - but cramped seats too!

Neat staging for the audience and cast means we get the full flavour of budget airline travel played to the full.

Broadway World caught up with Jake at the start of the show's West End run.

When did the idea come about and how long did it take before you started writing?

We were talking in the pub about what would make a good subject for a musical – veering around various subjects – when Luke, the director, mentioned that his mum was a former air stewardess and that he thought that might be a good idea; suddenly it all clicked and we decided to take it from there. We had a clear brief; an hour and fifteen minutes long, fun, suitable for Edinburgh audiences and for a cast of eight.

We started the writing process in late January 2008. We had a rough skeletal draft, just with dialogue and a couple of songs, within about three weeks.  That then had a readthrough by the cast, which was critiqued and discussed, and then based on their suggestions we went off and rewrote all the way up until June, when we had a preview try-out in Bristol. That got further tweaked a little bit in July then we opened in August – so overall, a very fast turnaround for a musical.   

What is the musical about?

It's about a 'flight-in-the-life' of six cabin crew and two pilots as they take a transatlantic flight to New York and back. We follow them as they touch down in New York and soak up the town's atmosphere; going shopping, dating and falling in love. You also get to see their onboard personas; how they behave both in front of passengers and behind the curtain.  

What specific incident or person inspired you to write the show? 

I was in a hotel in New York about four years ago and just so happened to be staying in the same hotel as the cabin crew of a major British airline. When they arrived they were all very glamorous with their suitcases on wheels, but in the morning at breakfast when they were all in their own clothes, they were just normal people killing time before they had to fly home; New York to them wasn't the tourist hotspot it is for everyone else, it was simply where they had to kill a few hours before their flights back.

How did you do your research and what came out of that ended up in the show?

I became a bit obsessed with the website, which has a message forum where flight attendants can swap experiences and anecdotes. There were lots of threads on there which I used as inspiration for songs;  the number What Do You Actually Do? particularly came out of a thread where they were talking about common misconceptions people had about cabin crew; that they were just waitresses in the sky.

The story of the character Nicola, who is torn between her job and settling down with her boyfriend to have kids, was also something that came out of me spending time on the forums, as many women found this a difficult decision to make.

One thing I didn’t do was watch The High Life (the 90s sitcom with Alan Cumming about cabin crew)!  A couple of reviewers have mentioned the connection, but unfortunately in 1994 I was seven years old; hardly something my mum would have sat me in front of! It was tempting to watch it at the time we started writing, but I steered well clear as to not plagiarise – perhaps I should watch it now!

How does it compare to, say, Boeing Boeing?

We've been asked this a lot and are often compared to Boeing Boeing in our reviews, but aside from the flight attendant connection, there are no similarities at all! Boeing Boeing is a non-musical farce about three flight attendants who are all dating the same man; we're a musical about cabin crew going off and spending 24 hours in New York, and we're actually on a plane!

How big is the cast?

There's eight – six cabin crew and two pilots. We did think about having passengers and having the cast double as a cabin crew and passenger each, but that very quickly got thrown out.

How did you set about working with your composer - was it plot first then lyrics and music ?

It's tricky to say, really. With some songs ('Dance with Me', 'Going Home') the music came first, and with others I would give Pippa a few lyrics to get started and then we’d adapt those fit the music ('If I Could Find a Boy', '24 Things in 24 Hours'). But generally we work on the lyrics together; I tend to come up with things I want to get in and Pippa obviously has to practically steer them in the right direction so it fits the music properly.

The plot was something that was very changeable throughout the process though, and something we worked on with the cast and with director Luke Sheppard. Originally 'Going Home' came quite early on in the show, which just didn't make sense, and 'A Simple Valley Song' wasn't always our penultimate number – now it sends the crowds out on a high as it’s right at the end.

How did the run in Edinburgh go? 

It was absolutely amazing, but to be honest it all seems a bit of a blur really, because the whole month you're up there you're completely in an Edinburgh bubble – a bizarre, slightly unnerving experience at times, for example we had no idea Jade Goody had been diagnosed with cancer and not a clue what was happening with the Olympics. Having patchy internet connections too meant that we couldn't really keep up with what was being said about JET SET GO! online!

But the nature of Edinburgh is that because it's so closed off from the world, and it all happens within such  a small area, hits become hits overnight because word spreads fast. We flyered like mad in the first week – all day every day – but it paid off because our second and third weeks sold on the back of having full houses the first week. But a full house for us was 92 seats, very intimate, so that also helped, not having to shift 300+ seats a day!

Did you get any feedback from the real pilots and air hostesses?

Surprisingly little, actually, apart from Luke's mum and the original Melanie (Maddie Moate)'s mum who was also a stewardess. They loved it. We did have a pilot who came with his wife and two friends who had an absolute ball, but told us that the pilots were sitting the wrong way round – that's now corrected in the staging. Our biggest fans have actually turned out to be Americans; we had one group of them who came and saw the show several times in Edinburgh. Maybe it's that Englishness thing. Even here in London, our first preview had a school party of 24 American school kids in – their teachers were crying with both laughter and embarrassment when they realised it had quite adult material at times!

When did you decide to bring it from the regions into London?

Whilst we were up there we had lots of meetings and conversations with various theatres and producers. Most – as these things go – came to nothing, but thankfully Gene David Kirk, programming director at Theatre 503 in Battersea, saw something in us and asked us to transfer the show there immediately following our run. The whole thing sold out before its first performance, which was bizarre but amazing – the space there is so small that when it's full it feels like an overbooked aircraft, perfect for our show! 

About five months later, when Gene took over at the Jermyn Street Theatre as artistic director, he asked us to revive the show, which we did, with a new cast and new design. It's given us the chance to revisit after a long rest away, so the final tweaks I've done on the script I'm now really happy with. We also put a new song in – 'Cabin Fever' – which fills a gap that always needed something. 

What are your next plans for the show and what are you working on now? 

With JET SET GO!, who knows? We're talking to people every day about its future. Let's just say, I'm sure this won't be the last of the show; it's a very easy one to get up on its feet within a few weeks, so if anyone out there's reading, we'll happily fly your way! We're in very very early talks to take it to New York, but again we'll stay teeny tiny off-off-Broadway!

As for Pippa and I, we're writing a new musical, The Great British Soap Opera, which Luke will again direct in Edinburgh this year, produced once more by Take Note Theatre, in rep with another new musical Chat by Lee Freeman. The Great British Soap Opera's in the midst of development as we speak, but we're all very pleased and excited to be going back to the same venue in the same time slot at Edinburgh; knowing what we're writing for really helps us create the show to the best of our abilities.

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From This Author Carrie Dunn

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