If you’ve ever thought of getting involved in producing, then please come and see me. Finding angels, backers, people prepared to invest is more difficult than flying a glider to the moon. The Producers is a 1967 film directed by Mel Brooks about a Broadway producer, Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel, who hatches a plot with an accountant, Leopold Bloom, played by Gene Wilder, to produce a musical that’s a failure. Their idea being that with some creative accounting, they can actually make money. Of course, it all goes wrong and the musical they’re producing Springtime for Hitler, which they thought would just have people leaving the theatre in their droves, proves to be a success. It’s a very funny film, that’s had two further incarnations – a stage musical and a film of the musical, but for me the original is the best. It’s a satirical black comedy that at times is scarily near the truth, except for the bit about making money out of a failure. At one-point Max says, “I was so careful… I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast… where did I go right?” Of course, we’re all looking for the right play, right director, right cast, right designer, right sound etc, etc, etc. But getting everything right is far from a push over. In fact, it’s nearly impossible.
1975 I was living in Tooting, long story, for another day. Terry Wood, who sadly died in 1982 at the ripe young age of just 34, was a great actor and a great friend. He had landed a part in the then latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical called By Jeeves. It was about PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and his manservant Jeeves. It had the credentials that if I hadn’t been a total pauper at the time, then I would have invested, but nobody was interested in my assets of £5.22p. Of course Andrew Lloyd Webber had done the music, Alan Ayckbourn, one of the most famous and successful playwrights of all time, did the book, Eric Thompson, (Emma’s dad) directed, film star David Hemmings played Bertie Wooster, highly acclaimed actor Michael Aldridge played Jeeves. An ‘A’ list of talent. It had to be another Lloyd Webber success. Wrong! Thank god I didn’t invest, that would have been the last I saw of my £5.22p. The first sign I knew there were problems was a phone call from Terry. No mobiles in those days, so it was a call from the stage door pay phone after a try out performance in Bristol. It was after midnight, the show had lasted 4 hours 45 minutes – not just a long show, it was a fucking epic marathon.
By time the show arrived at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End, it had come down to about 3 and a half hours long, but even this reduction in length didn’t stop the audience hating it to such an extent that in the second half they started slow hand clapping. The after-show party was the biggest one I have ever been to, even now all these years later. It was at Robert Stigwood’s mansion (he backed the production) somewhere in Hertfordshire and it was seriously extravagant. Ten days later notice was posted saying the show was going to end and two weeks after that the show closed. It was one of the biggest flops in West End history.
Lloyd Webber, who I once worked for and I believe is a prestigious talent, never set out to create a disaster. Nobody ever does, only in satirical films. And if it was easy to create a success, we’d all be doing it ever week. All you can do is hope to get it rightish.
In 2009, three years after the reading of Bloodbath The Musical in Leicester Square, we were no nearer to getting the show on. There had been various budgets, lots of chat with different people and companies, but no action. By now it was eight years after I’d first started working on the project and I was pissed off. I wanted the show on!
How about doing the show in the London fringe ….? That was one way forward. Enquiries were made and eventually, after engaging the services of the general management company The Entertainment Business, it was decided, I’m not sure how or even why, that we should by-pass the London fringe and go to the Edinburgh Festival, that August.
Now that might have been a great idea, if I’d had any idea how the Edinburgh Festival operated. I’d been a few times to see either shows or sit on various panels to pontificate about TV, but I’d never produced a show there.
Fuck me … a different kettle of fish or what!
Mind you, it could all have been fine if I’d just done my due diligence. And that would have meant going to Edinburgh that August, recceing the place, working out how it functioned and then taking the next 12 months planning before performing the show there the following year. But no … I just went headlong into it, without any real knowledge of what I was letting myself in for.
What I did know was that when the clock starts ticking, there’s no stopping it. And too soon the clock started ticking. The theatre was booked, we’d got a PR company, Target Live, on board, an opening night had been scheduled – the production train had well and truly left the station. Casting and rehearsals were in London, casting was the normal protracted affair, as we put together a cast that not only looked like cheerleaders and American football players, but could also sing, dance and act.
Harry Rogers, an old friend and producer, managed to rent, at his own expense, a cellar just two minutes from Oxford Circus which we could use to rehearse. Central London – how good was that, and the vibe in the place was perfect. But as the first day of rehearsal grew closer and closer, two of the main roles hadn’t been cast. Frances Ruffelle had played Beverly in the reading, but didn’t fancy doing it for a month long run in Edinburgh. The vocals were very demanding and she was worried it would put a strain on her voice. The other part that hadn’t been cast was the main cop – Billy Vail. Then just when you think all is lost through the door walked Gary Amers, a Geordie with a terrific voice and a superb presence. He was immediately offered the role. Then somebody mentioned an actress who they through would be perfect for the role of Beverly, Amy Pemberton. They were unsure whether she would want to commit as her father had recently died. But, luckily for us, she did commit, and she was brilliant – a great talent.
So fully cast, and designer – Takis, choreographer – Ryan Jenkins, sound designer – Gareth Owen, lighting designer – Ben Cracknell, all on board and MD – Gary Hind, feverishly arranging the music, rehearsals began.
Rehearsals were hard, fun and productive, just like they should be. There was no one I thought not right for the role they were playing, and after three and a half weeks, we moved to Edinburgh.
Then the trouble began.
Wrong theatre, so far off the beat and track, a wandering nomad wouldn’t pass by. And the theatre itself was far from co-operative, in fact they were disruptive and a pain in the arse. The PR company, Target Live, were as useful as an ejector seat in a helicopter – they just took the money and seemed to do absolutely nothing for it except suggest placing expensive ads in various publications, which had no effect whatsoever on attracting an audience.
All the while we’d been searching for backers and sponsors for the project. It was a contemporary modern, rock musical, with a young cast, and I thought, naively that loads of companies would want to get involved. And I think they would have, if we’d had more time. I’d just learnt my 27th major lesson of the venture – persuading people to part with cash takes time. As it was, we did get two companies to sponsor us, not with cash, but with goods – Ann Summers and Durex. We had the sexiest and safest show in Edinburgh.
Rehearsals in Edinburgh were fraught as we had to scrap round for places to rehearse – access to the theatre was very limited, but very quickly, after a rushed technical rehearsal, (the rehearsal when you plot through all the lighting cues, sound cues, special effects and anything technical – it can take a very long time) the opening night arrived.
Bloodbath The Musical opened in Edinburgh …
… and that should be the end of the story, but it isn’t. There is more and I think it’s only fair to let anyone who ‘s interested, know what happened next. Of course, this was going to be a Blogtrilogy, so next time it will be … BLOODDBATH REBORN (THE POSTSCRIPT).