I read the book a couple of years ago and it struck me how well it translated into the modern world. Human nature never learns for itself! I was angry at the world young people of our students’ generation were inheriting post banking crisis / war-on-terror / MPs expenses / phone-hacking etc. So Bel-Ami can partly be viewed as a protest.
What have been the obstacles of transforming a turn of the century text into a 21st century musical?
Musicals are often retrospective as audiences seem more willing to suspend disbelief and are more forgiving of people bursting into song if the piece is sufficiently ‘retro’. The greatest challenge was to find a musical language which feels contemporary but which still works dramatically. I have had amazing assistance from our orchestrator and programmer Andy Smith, who works with the orchestrator and composer John Cameron. Andy helped to create a contemporary sound world inspired by pop, rock, RnB, dance and rap, to name but a few styles. I was also very keen to build-out the female characters as obviously the role of women has changed dramatically within society.
Do you think that a critical element is lost in translation?
I hope not – as I said, it’s surprising (and possibly worrying) just how well this novel translates to the modern age. In a sense, I think it’s possible to tease out and be more overt some of the things which may have been unacceptable to say in Maupassant’s day. The Arts Critic is, for me, obviously a gay man who has repressed his ability to love and be loved and sold his soul to a right-wing rag where he operates in a culture of don’t ask, don’t tell.
All of your musicals have been inspired by well-known and seminal works. Have you considered composing a musical for lesser known works/emerging talent?
I’m simply drawn to good stories which have timeless themes and something to say about humanity. Such stories have a tendency to take off and become very famous very quickly. There is also a commercial element at play – even small scale fringe musicals are hideously expensive compared to plays and you have to know you have an audience to interest producers.
Is there often a conflict of interests while working with your brother?
No – we argue a lot which is great! He’s a skilled dramaturge and won’t let me get away with anything. He also specialises in new work which requires a particular skill-set as there is no blueprint to follow.
What advice would you give to aspiring performers?
Love what you do, be open to as many opportunities as possible and network. It’s the strangest coincidences that lead to the biggest breakthroughs.
The new musical Bel-Ami will run 19 February – 1 March 2014 at Charing Cross Theatre. Tickets are £10. Students from any institution can buy tickets for £5 using the discount code LCMBA1 (a valid student card must be shown when collecting tickets). Call the box office on 08444 930 650 or visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk