London Calling with Champagne Charlie 20/Nov/2008
‘This has moved me in a way no other show has' Peter Polycarpou confessed to me as he took a break from his afternoon prep prior to that's night's preview on IMAGINE THIS.
Already attracting attention from critics and public alike it follows in a long line of roles he has taken on and launched. The best know was that of JOHN in MISS SAIGON.
Just like that show IMAGINE THIS with it's setting on the eve of the Second World war inside a ghetto with the inhabitants waiting to be transported to an unknown but sadly deadly destination.
He nevertheless shrugs off any criticisms with his approach in taking a calculated risk' as he did with MISS SAIGON.
‘I got the script in August and loved it form the start. Sadly I was contractually bound to finish a piece of TV work so I couldn't join the workshop. But I did do the 1st run in Plymouth in the South of England. The show went well but it was clear we had more work to do and some new songs were needed. These were added and we are now with a ready made show' he told me.
Peter plays ‘Daniel Warshowsky', the head of a family of actors, in war time Poland stuck in a ghetto and seeking escape of any sort. During the plot of IMAGINE THIS love blossoms against all the odds in the ghettos of Warsaw during World War II. The Plymouth Theatre Royal presents the premiere of the musical, based on the book by Glenn Berenbeim, who is best known for his work in American TV. The plot sees a group of actors perform a love story set on Masada, the ancient Judean mountain where 2,000 years ago, 900 rebels held 10,000 Roman soldiers at bay. The story has parallels with their own situation. Trapped in a ghetto, the small theatre company carries on despite a food shortage, rumours of labour camps, and with the SS on their doorsteps. Actress Rebecca sees hope in the story of Masada, but Adam - a resistance fighter - believes it is pointless to stage a play full of false hope. However, he ends up taking part in the play when he is forced to disguise his identity from the Nazis. Against this backdrop, and despite their differences, Rebecca and Adam become increasingly close providing a tragic dilemma and emotional ending to the work.
‘I felt that after the rehearsal period we had we had got it just about right' he told me getting ready for that night's show and I get the same feeling about this show as I did doing MISS SAIGON.' He said crossing his fingers tightly.
‘I certainly found the rehearsal I had to do was essential. I read a lot of material about the period and did various exercises to get me as close to the character as I could.' He explained. ‘On one occasion we were asked to bring something that was really valuable to us on a personal level and talk about what it was like to have it taken from you. I brought a valentine card from my now wife sent while we were in our teens.
That really got to me and suddenly the character just clicked into place'. He confessed.
‘Everyone says the odds are stacked against this play...we had a double page spread in one of London's biggest selling papers - questioning the validity of performing it from a journalist who hadn't even bothered to see the show. The same thing happened with ‘MISS SAIGON' and look what happened there!' he reassuringly says.
‘Musicals can't just be one hit song after another. They have to entertain and inform. I was in a sell out production of Mike Bartlett's ‘ARTEFACTS in London and New York. The show about a sassy teen struggling with the responsibilities of adulthood set against the Iraq war and those involved. IMAGINE THIS goes deeper and darker than shows like CABARET and KISS OF A SPIDERWOMAN but it has people in floods of tears by the end of the night ...just like MISS SAIGON did. That sort of response is the best we can have for ‘critics' who haven't even seen the show but are devoting acres of space to knocking it!' he added.
With that he excused himself and got into his vocal exercises. Its official opening is next week and audiences here and in the US wait with interest to see how the show proceeds.
"Let me tell you nothing but nothing is recession proof". Jon Smith told me as he sat back the now proud owner of the Dewynters plc and SpotCo in the US - the multi-million dollar marketing engine behind US, UK and Europe's top theatre work. As a lifelong theatre and musical fan Jon was desperate to "break into the business" and transform, influence and affect live theatre as it exists today. Having been a leading sport agent and turning a one client shop into the world's first publicly traded UK Agency, he loves what he calls ‘playing corporate jiqsaw puzzles'.
"Having really loved the dramatisation of FESTON, I sat down with theatrical producer Bill Kenwright one lunch and said to him ‘Come on Bill, I really want to get into the business and shake things up - there must be something I can buy.'
Within the space of a few months he had engineered the joint purchase of both the Dewynters and SpotCo in the US meaning that he now could "have a real say in what went on." As a result in the UK will see the premier of the first corporate sponsored play featuring Hollywood & European A listed talent when the dramatisation of Capote's classic 'Breakfast at Tiffanys' takes to the stage next year. "This is a real first for theatre goers everywhere" Gareth More, one of his team members told me "we can bring production values never seen before on stage to this classic show thanks to the way it's been funded".
Mulling over the extent of their control he laid out how he saw things as being "We own 70% of the market place here in terms of theatre promotion" Jon told me. That means, we can premiere shows like "Mama Mia" to places like Beijing and it can go a storm." He sat back and proudly smiled as he went through other places in far off countries Broadway musicals are now set to open "We have a huge number of new properties at workshop stage right across the board from serious theatre right through to new musicals and revivals". However, Jon is very aware of the effect the change in the world economy will have. "I have said it before and I'll say it again. I remember the 70s more clearly the most and when the queue to the unemployment office gets longer, for some reason the only other queue that increases is the one to musical theatre". He acknowledges that people will be exposed to genres and innovation "like never before".
As an example he cites the premiere in 2009 of a new show they are launching - a unique multi media life production of Ben Hur. Taking place at London's Millenium Dome, this $10 million dollar budget will be spent on four hundred performers; a parade of donkeys, camels, eagles and chickens; and pyrotechnics to dazzle an audience of up to 15,000 punters per night. Playing for just 3 nights it will then go on to a full UK and European tour before being seen in the US.
"Unlike New York, London should come out of this credit squeeze earlier as we will all being well, have the inevitable boom and increase in feel - good that comes when an Olympic game is staged at the city" He added thoughtfully crossing his fingers and smiling as he looked upwards while pondering further on the future. "The advent of something like theatre on Sunday in London and the regions which is a new thing here will help, I am sure." His US plans are even more innovative coinciding with the acquisition of SpotCo. "I also acquired Spot as a company because of their connection with Radio City Music Hall and hit shows like RENT and CABARET. Although no one can predict the immediate future I definitely feel that at both ends of the scale from small intense dramas right through to big musicals you will see innovation and risk taking as we attempt to capture an audience who are clearly wanting to be provoked and lifted out of the current doom and gloom thinking the media loves to peddle." Uncrossing his fingers, he smiled and leaned forward to quietly say, "Make no mistake though, when we got something to say, we'll say it to Broadway World first".
What followed, was an off the record briefing of future productions and I can only say are truly mind boggling and leave the Feston and Ben Hur in the shade for their audacity and innovation but still at workshop stage, I can promise Broadway World readers when there will be something to show or hear, they will hear it first.
Next day, keeping good to his word was an invite to see a small scale political comedy set just after a US election called IN THE BALANCE. After just two days of opening the show has garnished such rave reviews a workshop is underway to help it in transferring to the West End and beyond.