Last week the new British musical The Wind in the Willows held its official launch on stage at the historic London Palladium where it will run this summer. Having previously delighted audiences around the UK in Plymouth, Manchester and Southampton the show is now preparing to welcome London audiences to its tales of the riverbank with colourful characters, a tuneful score, energetic cast and stunning designs.
Welcoming press to the launch Producer Jamie Hendry spoke about the show and its upcoming run in London at "the home of family entertainment" which he described as the "perfect home for this new British musical". Based on Kenneth Grahame's much loved novel of the same name he spoke about commissioning George Stiles, Anthony Drewe and Julian Fellowes to take a "fresh" look at it, commenting that despite its numerous adaptations over the years, he felt it lacked a definitive musical version that the whole family could enjoy. Having already premiered around the country Hendry spoke about the show's positive reaction from adults ad children, describing the show as a "premium feel-good musical".
Academy Award-winner Julian Fellowes greeted the assembled audience and thanked them for their support of the show, telling them a little more about the genesis of this new adaptation.
"I've always loved this book, it was read to me by my maiden aunt in the 1950s when I was in bed and it's been with me all my life. When I was asked to reinvent it for the musical stage I was absolutely thrilled. It has a kind of mystic power which I hope we still have in the show. We had a lot of fun exploring Toad Hall and the Riverbank and the Wild Wood – it's wonderful when you just get into one of those worlds. We wanted it to very much retain the timeless quality of the novel but at the same time to be 'now' and you will see in the music that George and Ants have experimented with the variety – we have classical musical theatre, pop and even have rap. I have rethought some of the characters, we wanted some more women's voices and that felt right for now."
Members of the original cast including Rufus Hound performed two numbers from the show that reflected the style and variety in the music as well as the universal appeal that the creative team hope the show achieves.
"One of our main goals was to produce a show that everyone would enjoy across different ages groups" Fellowes explained. "It was really fun on tour to see children and grandparents getting in to it. If you can appeal across the generations and give the entire family a pleasurable evening together, that's wonderful. It's an exploration about friendship. It's so important to us all but isn't always celebrated on stage or films or novels – friends drop to the back of the stage but in our lives they are right at the front, and that's what this show is about."
The musical's director Rachel Kavanaugh spoke about her attachment to the project saying that she had long admired the work of Julian Fellowes, and that the opportunity to direct a new British musical of this size was "irresistible". The team have previously worked together on the West End and Chichester hit revival of Half a Sixpence, and so a natural chemistry has developed between them.
"Most people know the book, and people come to this story wanting it to be full of warmth, already feeling positive about the characters" she explained. "This really is the best theatre to be doing a family musical in London and possibly the world. We will have the essence of what we did and make an even brighter and better version to fill this amazing theatre. We have around half of our original company coming back – it's thrilling to be back in an audition room looking for unique performers who we need and want to tell this story for today."