New musicals come in all shapes and forms and truly original British musicals are certainly few and far between. Exposure the Musical is a project that has been 15 years in the making, and has been created by Mike Dyer whose passion for the project is truly palpable. Unlike ordinary book musicals, the show has been created from a number of photographs, and explores the nature of fame and the cult of celebrity.
We were lucky enough to attend an exclusive rehearsal of this bold new show, which opens at the St James Theatre on 16 July. In a buzzing rehearsal room, the final preparations were being put in place for the show which features an incredibly talented ensemble of performers alongside a lively score which Dyer has collaborated with a number of different composers. “It's pretty much current, it's very much about photography and the power of photography” says Dyer, speaking passionately about this project that has lived within for the past 15 years. “You hear the expression that the camera steals the soul – I don't believe that, I believe it's the person who handles the camera and takes the picture who loses their soul...”
Exposure tells the story of young photographer Jimmy Tucker who faces the biggest and most exciting challenge of his life when a stranger commissions him to find and shoot the seven deadly sins alive and kicking in modern London. “The story begins in 2006” explains Dyer, “Jimmy Tucker has been cursed stepping into his father's shoes who was a Pulitzer Prize photographer. He's trying to live up to his father in the photographic sense, he's troubled, he's just back from Sudan. At the beginning of the show we start off where everything is beautiful – life is beautiful, the world is at your feet. It's set in E3, in Bow which is a hub-ground for the great photographers.” As Jimmy begins his enviable task, a series of extraordinary encounters involving girlfriends, family history and the intoxicating cult of celebrity begin to reveal that there's a whole lot more at stake than just money.
As the cast show a selection of numbers from the production, what strikes you first is the sheer energy and athleticism of the company. With strong choreography from Lindon Barr, the cast tumble, backflip and spin their way around the tight playing space in the expositional number “Eyes of the World”, which sets up Jimmy's world on the last day of school. Leading the cast in the role of Jimmy is David Albury who has an enigmatic presence and exceptional vocal delivery. “He walked into the audition room and I saw him and thought he had been living in my head for fifteen years and I didn't realise it” states Dyer. “He was probably just reaching puberty when the character came to me” he laughs. Albury is no stranger to the St James Theatre having previously performed there in You Won't Succeed on Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews. Other experience includes Simba in the National Tour of The Lion King and Love Story at the Union Theatre. He is joined by Natalie Anderson who plays his love interest, 'Dublin lass' Tara who has ran away to London from her overbearing father. The pair presented one of the show's more tender moments, their duet “Love Comes Knocking” which blended classical musical theatre with a fresh and modern sound.
Anderson is a veteran West End performer having previously starred in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, but is well known to TV audiences for her roles in Emmerdale and The Royale. They are joined by another popular soap actor, Michael Grecco, who plays the Faustian media mogul Miles Mason who sets Jimmy the challenge of capturing the seven deadly sins. Presenting their sinister duet “Bandit Country” the modern day parallels and the challenges of fame and fortune started to unfold, and Grecco seemed more than up to the challenge of commanding the stage.
The company is also blessed with the talents of Niamh Perry and Kurt Kansley – two fantastic performers who bring a wealth of experience and an incredible amount of vocal strength. Perry plays a member of the '27 club' Pandora, and is blessed with one of the stand out numbers from the show, “Last Goodbye”. She serves the pieces as a contemporary cautionary tale, whilst Kansley plays the role of Jimmy's father. Together with a full company of triple threat performers, Exposure certainly has a modern, edgy and hugely talented cast. Speaking of their individual contributions to the material, the company spoke of how exciting it has been to bring a new musical to the stage, as they have all been able to bring their own qualities to their tracks – which was certainly displayed in the finale number “Rainmaker” which allowed all of the cast to show off their stunning vocals.
Even within the rehearsal room, with just a number of props and no set, Exposure already seems exciting. With photography being such a key element of the show, Dyer spoke about the physical aspects of the production and what audiences can look forward to. “The designs feature the magic work of Tim Bird who I first saw a long time ago at the Menier's production of Sunday in the Park with George” he explains. “I couldn't understand how seamless the visual reality was to the story telling. Most shows I've seen with the visual seems to be an afterthought, so I thought if you start at the beginning and meld it they can grow with it”.
Exposure is certainly an original type of musical that speaks to audiences in 2016. The conception is quite unique, and it's an exciting premise that uses a fresh stimuli for musical theatre exploration. “Something which is very photographic orientated and powerful, some of the images that we use have never been seen before so it will be a privilege for the audience to see”. Dyer concludes. “It's the first show that will change with the times, it's organic. It's very much growing now, and the one thing I say to everybody is come and grow with Exposure, we need your support”.