It’s 1:17am on the 11th October and I’m at the airport. Being cheap I’ve booked a flight on Norwegian Air, which, whilst being one of the budget airlines, also has the name of an entire country (and a Nordic one at that) attached to it. This provides me with some sort of security about the idea of getting into a giant flying metal toothpaste tube and hurtling across the atlantic at 1000 miles per hour. It may be unwarranted security, but for some reason (potentially the outrageous price of their beer) I trust the Norwegians.
’m on my way to New York City. The land of Broadway and 42nd Street, the city of bagels and pizza, the town of Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli. I’m on my way there because five years ago in a tiny pub called ‘The Rusty Bicycle’ in Oxford my (then) new friend Rhys Jennings told me about a short story he had found on the internet. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he thought it could be a musical…
That story was called The Wicker Husband and it’s taken me on one hell of a journey over the last five years. One that I could never have anticipated.
We (Rhys Jennings, Charlie Westenra and I) are going to the big apple because The Wicker Husband was one of eight shows selected to be presented at the 30th Annual NAMT Showcase. For those of you who don’t know much about NAMT (I was one of them not so long ago), it’s essentially a two day showcase where over 200 industry producers from all across the USA converge at New World Stages in New York to watch 45 minute showcases of these eight shows. Our show was fortunate enough to have been selected from 223 submitted musicals, all of which had to be nominated either by an alumnus or a member organisation in order to be considered. We were very fortunate in that George Stiles & Anthony Drewe are alumni of the festival and as such had the right to nominate a show for submission. Despite my disparaging comments regarding George’s tennis playing during our writing retreat, they found it in their hearts to nominate The Wicker Husband for consideration.
As a direct result of the incredible mentorship year, during which, whip in hand, George and Ants had forced us to finish the show, we had a finished script of our musical. We also, thanks to the foresight of several smart people, had a sound desk recording of the entire show. Both of which were required to be considered for NAMT.
We applied back in March 2018. But the brilliance that was BEAM 2018 was happening and we and the writing community had other things on our minds. Such as snow. Lots of it. Also, Rhys and I had begun bashing away at our next show, a biopic musical about WWII codebreaker Alan Turing. Then, shortly after BEAM, I was fortunate enough to spend several weeks in Stratford-Upon-Avon, hanging out with the swans and writing a new political musical for the RSC. At some point down the line, I forgot that we had applied to NAMT.
Then in June, out of the blue, we found out we were down to the last 20. Then shortly after that we learned that The Wicker Husband had been selected for the showcase and we would be headed to New York in October. I remember my response at the time being something along the lines of ‘Hmm. Well, that’s nice isn’t it.’ I didn’t quite comprehend what it was that we were doing. Then I learnt about some of the shows that had gotten their start at NAMT, titles like Come From Away, Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone and Ordinary Days.
Then I started to shit myself.
Soon enough, however, the almighty machine that is NAMT whirred itself into motion and we were too busy to think about shitting ourselves.
Deadlines were supplied. Schedules sent out. Things had to be signed and sealed. A 45 minute cut had to be finalised, orchestrations had to be scored out, a musical director had to be found and a cast had to be arranged, new demos had to be prepared, recorded and supplied. All of this whilst trying to make a living. Needless to say, things have been rather busy over the last few months. If I’m completely honest I can’t remember half of what has happened.
But one of the great things about events like BEAM and NAMT is that they make you do things that otherwise you would most likely just procrastinate about. In our case, they made me take another look at several of the songs, in which some lyric, melodic and arrangement changes were made. They made us take another look at the script, where some strong cuts were made. They made us get some West End superstars together in a room to sing and record some of the songs (more to come on that later!). In short, we made lots of stuff happen in a very short amount of time. Simply because we had to.
I think it was Leonard Bernstein who said that what you needed to make art was an idea and not enough time (or something far more eloquent).
The upshot of all this chaos, is that we got it done. The orchestrations for NAMT are done, the demos recorded, the cuts made, the cast is almost set and we are extremely excited that it includes several leading lights of Broadway.
So now what?
I just got off the phone with a friend of mine who said something along the lines of, “I know you’re not very good at this part Darren, but you’ve done the work, now you get to sit back and enjoy it all.”
She’s absolutely right. I’m not good at this part. I’m happiest when I’m busy and working. I feel uneasy, trepidatious. I’m not nervous, but I feel a bit like I’m underwater, like there’s a film covering everything. I don’t quite know what’s going on, what we are heading towards or where we are going. I’m excited and grateful that we will have a support crew from MMD and MTN, as well as Stiles & Drewe out in NYC, along with other mentors to help us all navigate the experience. But still, I have absolutely no idea what to expect.
Over the next few weeks I hope to blog fairly regularly about my experience of NAMT, to learn a bit about how the Americans make new musicals and to bring a bit of it back to the UK.
Also, I plan on eating hot dogs. Lots of them.