Fri 18 May 2012

Theatre critic and journalist Mark Shenton talks to Soho Theatre ahead of his interviews with leading lights of the stage about their favourite songs.

Tell about what we can expect from These Are A Few Of My Favourite Songs

The idea was proposed last year as a charity fundraiser for the Theatrical Guild, the brilliant charity who support people who’ve worked in the theatre in backstage and behind-the-scenes capacities who are in need. I have approached leading figures in the theatre to choose some of their favourite songs, some of which we play on CD and some of which are sung live by a guest singer; this year’s singers are Leanne Jones, Emma Williams and of course Kerry Ellis, who is also an interviewee! The songs are then woven into an interview about the subject’s lives and careers. The songs provide a great launching pad for the interviews, and provide a nice respite from the chat and contrast to it! We’ve got a great line up this year of guests — as well as Kerry, we’ve got Simon Russell Beale, one of our absolutely foremost stage actors; Jeremy Sams, one of the brightest people I know who works in so many different arenas, from composer and director to lyricist and translator; and Howard Goodall, who wrote THE HIRED MAN, a show I seriously believe to the best British musical of the last 30 years, but is also widely known for his TV themes and classical work.

Why is live musical theatre relevant to a contemporary audience?

Musicals are one of the most popular art forms around, and justifiably so; there’s nothing quite like the fusion of drama, music and dance to tell stories that speak to and reach the soul. And the West End has a great selection, from masterpieces like Sweeney Todd to enduring popular successes like Les Miserables and The Phantom of Opera. But I also think that great shows can also be found in unexpected places, like the tiny Landor Theatre in Clapham, where for instance I saw one of the best productions of THE HIRED MAN I’ve ever seen last year — and who will be staging Howard Goodall’s A WINTER’S TALE later this year.

Tell us about a stage production that has had a big impact upon you.

Each of our guests this year has given me great times in the theatre. Simon Russell Beale is brilliant in everything he does; right now, he’s stunning as Stalin in the National’s COLLABORATORS, but he was also a brilliant Hamlet there. As a director, Jeremy Sams’s work has stretched from the hilarious National Theatre revival of NOISES OFF to the UK premiere of Sondheim’s PASSION, both of which I adored. As well as Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man, I loved his musical version of Love Story, best known for the film, in the West End; and his beautiful musicals The Dreaming and The Kissing Dance, both written for the National Youth Music Theatre. And Kerry Ellis can sing up a storm wherever the opportunity arises: I loved her ANTHEMS concert at the Royal Albert Hall, in which she was joined by Brian May on guitar.

With your experience of writing about musical productions, do you have any advice you can give to aspiring composers?

Write from your heart as much as with your art. Also, musicals are tough to get right; if at first you fail, try again and fail better, until you eventually succeed!

Complete this sentence: ‘Musical theatre is…’

…the best form of theatre I know.

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