Mark Shenton Previews Bend it Like Beckham
It was a striking fact that three of the four nominees for the Laurence Olivier Awards originated in New York - Here Lies Love, Memphis and Beautiful, though the eventual winner was the sole British nominee Sunny Afternoon, and only the first two of those featured original scores. But if best new British musical of the year, in my opinion, was the shamefully un-nominated Made in Dagenham (and has already now closed at the Adelphi), I'm ever-hopeful of a breakthrough for new British musicals that could re-establish the dominance that the genre previously enjoyed throughout the 80s as it exported show after show to Broadway, from Cats and Les Miserables to Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, not to mention Starlight Express, too, and the reinvigorated version of the 1930s musical Me and My Girl.
Of these, only Me and My Girl had a real sense of Englishness (whatever that means - in this case, a portrait of class conscious Britain as a working class Cockney man finds he is unwittingly heir to an aristocratic family). Two were actually set in Paris (Les Miserables and Phantom), with the former also originally premiered in Paris with a French creative team but remade in London via a production from Cameron Mackintosh and the Royal Shakespeare Company into the show it is today.
But the same decade also brought a major new composing voice to the West End stage in Howard Goodall, whose first full-scale musical The Hired Man, begun when he was just 24, arrived there in 1984 after regional runs in Southampton and Leicester, and brought a passionate story of English life in Cumbria at the turn of the last century to full-bodied and musically textured life, with a score full of choral anthems and surging melodies that have their own unique sound. It remains, to my mind, the best British musical, bar none, of the last 30+ years since it was premiered.
The Harriers (photo by Ellie Kurttz)
Goodall has, in the years since, gone on to become a noted modern classical composer (he has been Composer-in-residence for Classic FM, where he was also a regular presenter for a time) and an impressive authority on music through TV documentaries and his education work. But he has never fully left behind the world of musical theatre, turning out a series of terrific new musicals for the National Youth Music Theatre, often in partnership with lyricist Charles Hart (who served as lyricist for Phantom of the Opera), as well as writing beautiful scores for Girlfriends and Love Story that both transferred to the West End from regional runs in Oldham and Chichester respectively.
Now he's been reunited with Hart for Bend it Like Beckham a brand-new musical based on the 2002 film of the same name, that's being brought to the stage by director Gurinder Chadha, who also directed the original film. And its the new musical I'm most looking forward to all year.
Lauren Samuels and Natalie Dew
(Photo by Ellie Kurttz)
I saw an early workshop for it when it was being presented to theatre owners and other West End luminaries last year, and was immediately struck by how skilfully the film's authentic portrait of a Southall Asian family and their teenage daughter's immersion in football was being translated for the stage. Goodall's music gorgeously channels both Asian, Bollywood-style themes with his own English voice (orchestrations are by Goodall and Kuljit Bhamra).
This is not the first time a British Bollywood crossover musical has been attempted - Andrew Lloyd Webber, no less, produced a show called Bombay Dreams in 2002 that merged music styles too, with music by Bollywood film composer AR Rahman, but it was set in Bombay, not London. But Bend it Like Beckham is also coinciding with a new theatrical resurgence in Bollwood-influenced shows; including the London Palladium premiere, also in May, of Beyond Bollywood, scored by brothers Salim-Sulaiman, whose credits include multiple award-winning Bollywood film scores for Iqbal and Fashion. Also, Pravesh Kumar's Britain's Got Bhangra, previously produced in 2010 and 2011, is being revived for a new production that will launch an extensive tour in Manchester in September. So the timing couldn't be better for Bend it Like Beckham.