Meet the NEXT Great Musical Theatre Writers (From Britain!)

Special Features   Meet the NEXT Great Musical Theatre Writers (From Britain!) A new program “bridges the gap” between the musical theatre communities in the U.S. and across the pond and introduces us to a new crop of talent.
NEXT Bridge the Gap
NEXT Bridge the Gap Courtesy Alicia Krakauer

When most students study abroad, they come home with souvenirs. Alicia Krakauer returned with a new vision for musical theatre: Bridge the Gap.

Krakauer had already tried her hand at producing when she entered graduate school at London’s Mountview Academy for Theatre Arts. Her concert series NEXT (Now Entering the Crossroads of Theatre) had played 16 installments of new musical theatre writers and singers in New York City. But when she arrived in London, Krakauer found a new mission for the program.

“One of my best friends at school had used a Bobby Cronin song to audition to get into Mountview,” says Krakauer. “She knew him and … all these new American composers. But when I started asking about the talent there, my friends just didn’t really know as much as [they knew about] the Americans.” Krakauer went to work. She produced a concert in September 2014 featuring London’s new musical theatre talent performing work by native songwriters and called it NEXT UK. The concert was a smashing success. “[The writers] all came,” Krakauer gushes. “It was a packed house and everybody was just celebrating the music. There was no … sense of competition or who was better than who. It was just these amazing British writers and these wonderful British actors singing their music. Well, British actors and me!”

Megan Minutillo and Alicia Krakauer
Megan Minutillo and Alicia Krakauer

Following that night, Krakauer teamed up with director Megan Minutillo and built a new program for NEXT. Bridge the Gap aims to open a channel for artists and audiences to access new musical theatre in a different culture. “Musical theatre started in America so… there tends to be this idea that, ‘Oh, well, the Americans are already doing it,’” Krakauer explains. “But then there’s all this talent over there. Maybe there’s another Cynthia Erivo out there who’s not comfortable being in a concert circuit that would see an event like this and a series like this and feel more apt to join the tribe.”

Krakauer and Minutillo planned a concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below to grant exposure to U.K. writers through Bridge the Gap. On June 6, American performers will sing work by seven English, Irish and Scottish composers. But as Bridge the Gap’s premiere approaches, the project’s scope widens. “Initially, I think it was a bridging the gap of the American musical theatre community and the musical theatre community in London, but I feel like in rehearsing for this, in preparing for this, there’s so many other layers.” Minutillo says. “I think one of the results of this will be that there will be these relationships now with these composers and these American performers, because even in rehearsals people are falling so in love with this music.”

Bridge the Gap will also donate part of the proceeds to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. But this week’s concert is only the first step in a larger plan that Krakauer is still devising. When asked about her ideas for the future, she chuckles, “What’s next for NEXT?... It’s not fully formed yet.”

Bridge the Gap premieres at Feinstein’s/54 Below June 6 at 9:30pm. Tickets are $25-$35 plus $25 food and drink minimum. For tickets and more information, visit 54Below.com.

MEET THE COMPOSERS
MARK ALLCORN
About Mark:
When I was a teenager I was always making up lyrics to other people’s songs, but then I decided I wanted to see if I could write my own. To do that I thought I needed to try to at least learn an instrument, so I took piano lessons. Fast forward 20 years, five years spent at music college, a Stiles & Drewe award and three musicals later: Here I am!

What are you working on right now?
I’ve just started working on a new musical. I don’t want to say too much, but I think it has huge potential. Also I’m hoping to have an evening of my songs presented in London later in the year, which is really exciting. I’m a huge fan of Tim Minchin, so wanted to see if I could write two to three songs in a comedy style. “Sex Object,” “Confessions of a Dieter” and “I Really Love Christmas” [were] the result. It’s not based on anyone in particular, more of an amalgamation of a few braggarts I know!

Watch!
“Confessions of a Dieter”

FINN ANDERSON
About Finn:
I have been writing plays and songs from a very young age. I created lots of little plays as a youngster before writing, directing and producing my first two-act musical [at] age 14 at the local theatre. For me, the initial drive was the whole act of making theatre. I would write, direct, act, stage manage and produce. Now it is a long process of working out which elements of that I want to step back from and which I want to focus on and hone as a craft. You can’t do everything! I am currently experimenting a lot with my process and am working on a couple new musicals which are starting off as devised projects, getting a bunch of actors and artists into a room to begin generating material. From there I will then go onto craft a script and songs inspired by what we have created in the room.

What are you working on right now?
I am working on a new musical, Plots, which tells the story of a group of amateur gardeners who unite in a battle to save their soil from developers. It is an actor-musician show, inspired by interviews from allotment gardens, the British term for urban community gardening spaces, I have undertaken across the U.K. [My song for Bridge the Gap,] “Rose for Valentine,” is from a musical This Young Man about a young man’s quest to scatter his dad’s ashes at a remote waterfall in Scotland. The music is inspired by Scottish traditional and folk music and sung by the Tellers, a group of storytelling characters who assist the Young Man in the narrating of his tale.

Watch!
“I Like,” performed by Bridge the Gap producer Alicia Krakauer

TIM CONNOR
About Tim:
My parents always loved listening to musicals. In the ’90s, there was a magazine/CD series called The Musicals Collection, which really opened my ears to tons of famous and little-known American and British theatre scores. Maddie and Spend Spend Spend, two new British musicals that opened in town during my early teens, inspired me so much that I decided I wanted to learn how to write professionally. I was very lucky be mentored by Clive Paget at the Bridewell Theatre in London. Even with the rather terrible material I had to share [at] age 17, he took me absolutely seriously and was rigorous about the craft and graft behind writing music and words that could work theatrically. I am forever indebted to Clive for taking me under his wing.

What are you working on right now?
Lia Buddle and I have started work on a new children's musical based on a series of Czech stories. My mother is Czech, so I grew up on them. And with Sue Pearse, I am adapting a fascinating British play from the 1920s about the aftermath of the first World War. I can't say too much about it just yet but, amusingly, we learned recently that in the late ’20s Puccini had wanted to adapt it as an opera!

Watch!
“Back to School” from Heart of Winter

DANNY DAVIES
About Danny:
I've been songwriting since the age of 13. Although, I did write a little song [at] age six called "Let Peace Be on Its Way Soon," which was every bit as exciting as the title suggests! I wrote my first pop songs highly influenced by my very uninspiring teenage love-life and angst. My love for musical theatre was born with a visit to see a very early rendition of Les Misérables, and this inspired me to eventually write my first musical with Judy Wolfson called Loco Parentis [at] age 19. My writing relationship with Judy continued for a decade or so, and I also began writing with actor Pete Gallagher (U.K. actor, not the American). More recently, I have been working closely with another genius and inspiring actor and author, Alex Scott Fairley.

What are you working on right now?
A new musical called Sweet with Alex Scott Fairley. Sweet is a twisted steampunk symphony of enchantment and entertainment, horror, heroics and happy endings, based on the Grimm Brother's Hansel and Gretel. www.sweetthemusical.com

Watch!
“This Dream’s Not for You” from Hey, Producer!

GUS GOWLAND
About Gus:
I've always written, although [I] started out as an actor. Mine's a typical story of feeling frustrated at not using my creativity in between acting jobs, and so I started channeling that energy into writing. I had some success and felt that it was something I wanted to explore, so I went back to university and studied for a Masters degree in musical theatre writing. Since then I've been fortunate enough to keep ticking along being a writer properly. I write book, music and lyrics, which can be challenging at times, but once I have a draft in place I get to work with amazing collaborators—actors, directors, musicians—so I don't feel totally on my own!

What are you working on right now?
I'm working on a new draft of Pieces of String, which is hopefully going to be produced next autumn. We've been developing it for a while, and it feels like we're in the final stages now. I'm also writing a brand new show for Theatre Royal, Stratford East here in London and the… book for [a] show with Eamonn [O’Dwyer, who is also featured in the concert]. It's based on a factual book called Fanny & Stella by Neil McKenna and is a fabulous romp with two female impersonators in Victorian London. It's filthy and a lot of fun!

Watch!
“War Stories” from Pieces of String

EAMONN O’DWYER
About Eamonn:
I sort of fell into [writing] really. I was an actor for 12 years, and I was cast in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Japan. They didn’t have, or couldn’t afford, a composer or a musical director, so I said I’d have a go, and I haven’t really stopped since. I did quite a few jobs where I was acting and composing, but I’ve gradually got myself off the stage and at the piano full time! I’m collaborating with a few different bookwriters for different shows, but music and lyrics I write myself.

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a new show called Fanny & Stella [with Gus Gowland], an amazing true story of two female impersonators in the Victorian era. They were well-to-do middle class boys in London who performed and lived as women. One of them even married a Lord, and they had an amazing sisterhood and a very colorful life. It’s going to be quite outrageous!

Watch!
“Something for the Pain” from The House of Mirrors and Hearts

KATE MARLAIS & ALEX YOUNG
About Kate and Alex:
We met studying classical composition at King’s College London and then both went on to study musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music. We found a mutual love for British, classical composers such as Tavener, Britten [and] Vaughan Williams, and combined with our passion for musical theatre, it led us to wonder if we could combine the two to create our own sound world and, more importantly, the sounds world of the story we wanted to tell in HERE.

What are you working on right now?
We are continuing to develop our musical HERE. We recently did a five-week workshop on the piece with drama students from the University of Cumbria in Carlisle, only a stones throw away from the farm where HERE is set. In September, we will have another workshop hosted by the Leicester Curve Theatre, followed by a further workshop in London, culminating in an industry showing.

Listen!
“Back to the Land” from Here

JAMES MICHALOS
About James:
I started writing individual songs for fun when I was 14. When I was a student, I co-wrote a musical that was then selected for production at the Bloomsbury Theatre by my university's musical society. It was when the theatre management invited us to mount a professional production with their backing that I considered writing as a career choice.

What are you working on right now?
My latest musical is Double Click. It is a two-hander that charts the relationship between Florence, a furniture restorer and Marcus, an advertising executive. They meet online, but Florence has agoraphobia. It deals with the problems facing everyone who wants to find love in today's world: investing time in finding love in a time-starved society; technological isolation threatening the sanctity of human interactions; that what you see online is not what you get and how to deal with that; how to advance a relationship in this dip-in dip-out surface culture and the graveyard of all of your past statuses on social media serving to deter a prospective love interest. Double Click was recently a runner-up in the final of the inaugural Musical Box Festival at the Lost Theatre, Wandsworth. I'm currently seeking funding from the Arts Council for a concept album, and I also hope to enter it into the New York Musical Theatre Festival this year.

Click to watch!
“Sorry's All I've Got” from Up and Away

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