John Barry's stage musicals.
By the mid-sixties, Barry had more or less mastered every genre of popular music, bar one. He dearly wanted to crack the stage musical too.
In fact, he was reported to have started work on a musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel ‘Brighton Rock’ as early as September 1964. Greene had not only given permission for its use, but had also agreed to help in the lyric writing alongside Wolf Mankowitz. Persuading the Boultings to relinquish their hold on the film rights was muted at the time to be the only stumbling block. Barry, a huge admirer of Greene, worked on the idea at length and had already written several songs before it was eventually shelved. He was soon to discover just how serious Greene was in his intent on collaborating to the point where the author insisted on working on three of Barry’s melodies; however, it didn’t take Barry long to realise that as a lyricist, Greene made a great novelist. In one of life’s more awkward moments, Barry had to delicately explain to Greene how his wonderful rhymed prose did not necessarily cut it as song lyrics. They were simply not concise enough. Fortunately, Greene took the criticism well. The one insurmountable problem, as Barry saw it, was basing an entire production on one extremely despicable character, ‘Pinkie’. Regrettably, the production never transpired, although it remains a project dear to Barry’s heart to this day.
Back in 1965, Barry quickly overcame any lingering disappointment he may have felt over ‘Brighton Rock’, by signing up to write an entirely different type of musical, ‘Passion Flower Hotel’, which opened at the Prince of Wales, London in August of that same year. Even though it was subjected to mixed reviews and only ran for six months, it did include two or three excellent songs. Critics generally could not decide who was to blame for this rather short run. The Sunday Telegraph under the heading 'Silly and smutty', thought that ‘Barry seemed more at ease writing the production numbers for Peter Gordeno's lively hot foot if derivative choreography than the melodies for Trevor Peacock's static, repetitive, clumsily contrived lyrics.' On the other hand, Hugh Leonard, writing in Plays and Players thought Peacock ‘a most talented lyricist who leaves the composer, John Barry, lagging behind.' Leonard disliked almost everything about the show, and was particularly scathing about Francesca Annis, one of the female leads: 'There is only one solo song number in the course of the evening. This goes unaccountably to Francesca Annis, who either cannot or will not sing or dance. She seems to loathe the show, and goes through the evening very much on her dignity, being a good sport about the entire nasty proceedings.'
Leonard did enjoy two of the songs, 'What a Question' and 'I Love My Love', but even these were ruined for him by 'the appalling amplification system in the Prince of Wales. Herbert Kretzmer, for the Daily Express liked Annis version of 'How Much of the Dream Comes True', but complained in general about the quality of all the singers. The show featured many young actors and actresses who have since made their mark, including Jeremy Clyde, Nicky Henson, Jane Birkin (who became the second Mrs Barry), Pauline Collins and a very young Michael Cashman, who was later to become well known through BBC TV's EastEnders and is now an MEP! Barry thought years later that a certain over confidence could have been the trouble. An original stage cast LP was released as part of Barry’s new recording deal with CBS, together with a single adapted from the show and released under Barry’s name. ‘The Syndicate’ was a storming brassy big band instrumental at which he has always excelled.
It wouldn’t be for another five years before Barry would be wooed back into musical theatre and this was due largely to Katharine Hepburn’s inadvertent intervention. She revealed to lyricist Alan Jay Learner how he shared with Barry a mutual liking for the children’s tale, ‘The Little Prince’. During the course of their discussion, Lerner wondered whether Barry would consider collaborating on an entirely different project under development for the American stage, a musical version of Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’, with the working title ‘Lolita My Love’. They met in London during May 1970 over the possibility, but with Barry heavily committed to scoring films, they bounced around a few ideas and then left it at that. It took until October for the bulk of the writing to truly begin. In this instance, around ninety per cent of the music was written first, once tempo, mood, title and attitude had been finalised. Lerner then added lyrics, which was in complete contrast to the way in way Rodgers and Hammerstein always worked.
‘Lolita My Love’ proved to be a disastrous experience, as Barry would later confirm: "We opened in Philadelphia on February 16th, 1971 to very bad reviews, and closed on February 27th." The cast returned to New York for a month to review the wreckage, before the show resurfaced with changes in script and personnel at the Schubert Theatre in Boston on March 23rd; it closed five days later. The anticipated Broadway opening at the Mark Hellinger Theatre never transpired and, not surprisingly, nor did a planned original cast album for Columbia Records. Despite this, some of the songs were later recorded, notably 'Going Going Gone' by Shirley Bassey and 'In the Broken Promised Land of Fifteen' by Robert Goulet. A couple of non-commercial recordings on the Mediasound label featuring those two songs and ‘How Far Is It to the Next Town?’ also surfaced. Then, quite unexpectedly, an album was released in 1987 featuring a complete recording of one of those performances at the Schubert in Boston. Since it was recorded unofficially through the theatre's sound system, the quality is by no means perfect, but it gives a fair indication of the style and nature of the show.
It became a case of ‘third time lucky’ for Barry, when, in 1974, his collaboration with Don Black on ‘Billy’ provided him with the success denied him in the past. Barry first conceived the idea of staging a musical version of Keith Waterhouse’s novel, ‘Billy Liar’, in 1971. His friend and lyricist Don Black recalls: "John was always going on about the book, saying how great it was, so we re-read it all, ran the film and I had to agree it was marvellous. A great story and very funny, which is a thing I miss in musicals these days; you don't get much humour."
Convinced they had amassed enough material, the two networked furiously to secure the best production team available. At this stage Barry also did the next best thing to actually putting up money himself, by securing the rights from the play’s authors, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall. He then persuaded Michael Crawford to take on the title role, Peter Witt to produce and then hired top TV scriptwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to adapt the play for a musical setting. With Patrick Garland drafted in to direct - fresh from a recent collaboration with Barry on the film A Doll's House - an extremely promising team was complete.
Barry and Black spent the best part of 1973 determined to perfect the songs by retreating to Barry’s half-finished villa in Majorca, so that they could write more easily in splendid isolation. "We’d get up around six or seven in the morning and work very hard in separate rooms before having late lunch. Then we’d talk things over," explained Barry. As partnerships go, this was a flexible one, with inspiration likely to emanate from either music or lyric. "You go through several phases. There are areas where it is obvious where songs should go. Then there are also highly technical areas where there is no real need for a song, and yet the structure requires music to make an idea work. What we have come up with is a traditional musical as opposed to something like ‘Hair’, ‘Godspell’ or ‘Jesus Christ superstar’," Barry added.
‘Billy’ opened for a three-week trial run at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on Monday, 25th March, 1974, for which Barry brought in orchestrator Bobby Richards and musical director Alfred Ralston. The show opened to rapturous reviews, and was to run for two years at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It was given a Royal Gala Premiere in the presence of Princess Margaret on Monday April 29th, two days before its official first night.
Critics were unanimous in their praise of Michael Crawford in the lead role, and this time the music, in the majority of cases, seemed to be everything they were looking for.
For the Daily Express, Herbert Kretzmer wrote: "The songs are always suitably dashing or sentimental, always right for the moment, if lacking any obvious hit. ‘Some of Us Belong to the Stars’ is one of the show's best songs. For Michael Crawford the title is prophetic." The Guardian noted in particular, "John Barry's catchy score and Don Black's pointed lyrics".
Jack Tinker in the Daily Mail praised almost everything about the show, but neglected to mention the music. Milton Schulman, in the London Evening Standard, felt that "John Barry's music was more practical than melodic, though I suspect that songs like 'Billy' and 'I Missed the Last Rainbow' could catch on. Don Black's lyrics were sharp and bright."
The original cast album issued by CBS in the UK was awarded a silver disc; its popularity reinforced by Sony’s decision to reissue the album on CD and cassette in the early nineties. Ambitious plans to take the show to Broadway failed to bear fruit, although from time to time, press reports alluding to proposed revivals and revisions continue to surface.
In November 1987, when working with Mort Shuman on Budgie, Don Black again brought up the subject of a revival: "We never did anything with ‘Billy’ originally. It never went to America; it never went anywhere. It was just one of those things. Somehow we all got involved in different projects and we didn’t pursue it. But plans are now at an advanced stage to revive it. We've got some exciting thoughts about recasting, and I really think it could happen all over again." However, in 1989, Black admitted to the difficulty in finding someone suitable to play Billy, a problem first raised in public by Barry in a radio interview two years earlier.
Nonetheless, in 1989, original director, Patrick Garland, remained optimistic about a proposed revival. He envisaged the show being brought up to date to enable the young English comedian and singer also Gary Wilmot to play the lead. Although this particular plan fell by the wayside, a new National Youth Music Theatre production did run for two weeks at the Edinburgh Festival in 1992. Black and Barry wrote two new songs, 'My Heart Is Ready When You Are' (a duet for Liz and Billy) and 'One Man Can Make a Difference' (sung by Billy). TV comedian Andrew O'Connor took the lead in the hope that this would attract West End investment, but a lingering recession and the recent failure of other musicals combined to put the venture on ice once more.
Barry’s most recent stage musical project was The Little Prince and the Aviator, in 1981. This was an adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s fable about an airman, forced to make an emergency landing in the Sahara Desert, befriending a small boy who had been transported there himself by birds from another planet. Sadly, this Barry/Black collaboration was aborted before it was due to open at the Alvin Theatre on Wednesday, January 20th 1982.
Negative reaction to production previews led to a poor demand for tickets and when producer A Joseph Tandet ran into financial difficulties, the musical’s premature demise was sealed. Unusually for a production of this kind, finance was raised by the formation of a public company, Little Prince Productions Ltd, selling 750,000 shares to the public at two dollars each. Very soon, confidence in the project became undermined by the criticism, leaving the musical well and truly grounded. Anthony Rapp was to have played the title role alongside Michael York as Toni (the aviator) and Ellen Greene as Suzanne. This was not the only attempt at a musical version of the book, for Alan Jay Lerner, whom you may recall discussed this very idea with Barry eleven years earlier, managed to get there first in 1974. Regrettably, his film version proved equally as unsuccessful.
Now, in 2003 comes the news that Barry & Black are working on their third musical together, Brighton Rock. Almost 40 years on from Barry’s first attempt, we must hope for a much more satisfactory conclusion!
For a much more detailed look at Barry’s musicals, buy our book, John Barry – The Man with the Midas Touch, published in 2008.
22 November 2005:
Don Black revealed to some of his and John Barry's fans at the "Thunderball 40th anniversary" screening that he and John Barry do want to revisit Brighton Rock. Don agreed that it would be very sad if the Almeida season was the beginning and the end of the show. He said that it would need some rewriting and it was clear from what he said that this hasn't happened yet.
He said that it should tour in the provinces first before any attempt at at a further West End run
Don seemed genuinely surprised by the interest expressed in the show.
Cause for guarded optimism then, but don't expect anything in the near future. [Thanks to Pete Greenhill for the information.]
You may wish to post your opinion of the show to the John Barry Appreciation Society page on Facebook. All views welcome, good, bad or indifferent!
07 January 2005:
No CD at present
Mr. Simon Meadon of Bill Kenwright Limited has said thank you for all the e-mails, and that there are no plans at present to produce an album but that he will be in touch if and when circumstances change.
Should they produce the show again either in the same or a revised form the situation may change.
Please do NOT contact Bill Kenwright Limited anymore, as everyone's interest has been noted.
Official production stills;
photographer John Haynes
06/07/10/12 October: Online reviews:
04 October: Screen grabs of the BBC Breakfast TV interview, October 4, attended by Don Black and John Barry.
Breakfast interview with John Barry and Don Black.
It started with an introduction for the viewers to show who JB and DB are. Presenters mentioned James Bond and then what must possibly be Graham Greene's most famous novel "Brighton Rock" and showed what may be the most famous of composisitions JB and DB did together: a clip of Shirley Bassey singing Diamonds Are Forever.
Back to the studio and John Barry was asked to tell what Brighton Rock is all about. Although both gentlemen looked in excellent condition - John growing his hair again - it was fairly obvious that JB didn't really know what to say and Don got in between rather often. Talking a lot faster, he gave the basic information about Brighton Rock much more clearly than John did. Also mentioned that Michael Attenborough must be the best director they could have ever had - having grown up with Brighton Rock.
John told about Roy Boulting storming into Graham Greene's apartment and had the argument with "Graham, no, Wolf Mankowitz". Barry got it wrong at first, then impersonating and mimicking "f****** b*st*rd live on BBC TV.
Don really saved the interview by being lucid and clear. We were treated to a short videoclip of one of the songs, beautiful blue lighting, Pinkie and Rose dancing, the same scene as the photo from Metro that we now have on our website. And the song sounded very lovely indeed.
John and Don were also asked if the musical was finished as far as they were concerned and John said that there were changes and that certainly the reactions from the audience are an indication. Don Black got in between again - lightening things up after grumbling and mumbling JB, by saying that there is a saying in "our business: a musical is never finished, it just opens."
The presenters thanked Don Barry John, no John Barry and Don Black. In all, it was a little confusing. And not at all clear where Brighton Rock is being shown.
22 October: John Barry & Don Black on Brighton Rock on BBC Radio 4, October 1, at 7.15 p.m. - "Front Row".
28 September: Article in Metro (received October 1)
We have the complete songlist. Some songs might disappear or be replaced during the run:
Article from September 16, "Bleak tale with Bright future?", Nick Smurthwaite on The Stage website (link no longer works)
26 September: Third poster
10 September: Second poster
06 September: We have the poster
10 August: Already people are asking about the chances of an original cast album, but I feel it's much too early to speculate.
It would be rare for an album to be issued on the back of a short run at a small theatre. Of course, a West End transfer would make an album a near certainty.
We do know a total of 19 songs have been written but not if they will all end up in the musical.
02 August: there was a meet & greet and read/sing through today, August 2, and all went well. In attendance were the full cast and director, Giles Havergal, Don Black and JB with his wife Laurie.
I was informed that our book "A Life In Music" is on the "information" table along with various other reference tomes and it turns out that Mike Attenborough knows an awful lot about JB's film music.
Full cast list is as follows:
Pinkie Brown - Michael Jibson
Dallow - David Burt
Cubitt - Neil McCaul
Spicer - Paul Bentall
Judy - Corinna Powlesland
Rose - Sophia Ragavelas
Ida Arnold - Harriet Thorpe
Phil Corkery - Gary Milner
Fred Hale - Nick Lumley
Mr Colleoni - Joshua Richards
Crab - Anthony Clegg
Molly - Michelle Hooper
Delia - Elizabeth Price
Ensemble (Holidaymakers, shopkeepers, race goers, etc.)
Solicitor Prewitt is out.
22 July: John is about to leave for London. Rehearsals for Brighton Rock begin next week so he'll be involved in that. Hopefully I will get to speak to him at some stage.
13 July: "Attenborough Jnr tackles Brighton Rock" article on IndieLondon.co.uk mentions more cast members: "Other cast members include Neil McCaul (Cubitt), Corinna Powlesland (Judy), Paul Bentall (Spicer), Joshua Richards (Mr Colleoni), Elizabeth Price (Delia) and Anthony Clegg (Crabb)."
29 June: "25th June 2004 - 'What's on Stage' News Almeida Picks Jibson for Brighton Rock’s Pinkie"
29 June: According to Friday's Daily Mail, Michael Jibson has been chosen to play Pinkie, fresh from an 'Olivier Award' nomination for his performance in the Madness musical, 'Our House', while Rose will be played by Sophia Ragavelas, who has just ended a run as Eponine in 'Les Miserables'
Michael Attenborough is quoted as saying, "It (Brighton Rock) is a portrait of the inside of Pinkie's head and a musical is the best medium to explore that."
29 June: Spanish language article about Brighton Rock and that JB had to tell Graham Greene that his lyrics were no good when they were first working on Brighton Rock 35 years ago.
99 June: Interview with John Barry in The Daily Telegraph, "Graham Greene off key when it came to lyrics By Hugh Davies" (Filed: 07/06/2004), Monday 7 June issue), in the news section on page 9 in the newspaper. Also available on the Telegraph website. [BR page no longer exists] Log in, or register first.
20th September - 13th November 2004
Whitsun weekend, Brighton, 1937. Three deaths, one marriage and a walk on the pier...
Based on the classic novel by Graham Greene, Brighton Rock is a musical drama set in gangland Brighton, full of smoky pubs, seedy boarding houses and men carrying razors, led by the notorious mobster "Pinkie".
Caught up in the violence of the weekend, the only incriminating witness to a murder is Rose, a 16-year old Catholic girl with a memory for faces and eyes only for Pinkie. A wedding would buy her silence, although Pinkie doesn't believe in love and marriage.
But then again ... till death do us part?
Directed by Michael Attenborough
Designed by Lez Brotherston
Lighting by Tim Mitchell
Musical Direction and Orchestrations by Steven Edis
Choreography by Karen Bruce
Sound by John Leonard
Presented in association with Bill Kenwright
John Barry has written music for over 100 films; his 11 James Bond scores include Goldfinger and Thunderball. He has won five Oscars; for Born Free(song & score), The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves. He has also written four stage musicals including Billy, written in collaboration with Don Black.
Don Black wrote lyrics for Tell Me On A Sunday, Bombay Dreams and book and lyrics for Sunset Boulevard (with Christopher Hampton). His films include five James Bond films and Born Free, for which he won an Oscar. In addition he has won a Golden Globe, two Tony Awards and five Ivor Novellos. In 1999 he was awarded an OBE.
Giles Havergal was for over 30 years Artistic Director if the celebrated Glasgow Citizens Theatre. his adaptations include Summer Lightning, David Copperfield, Death in Venice and Graham Greene's Travels with my Aunt.
24 May: London Theatre Guide, The Almeida 2004/5 programme
21 May: The British Theatre Guide: The Almeida... 2004/5 season programme.
16 May:A Brighton Rock Study Guide, the novel, guide © Andrew Moore, 2000.
16 May: Brighton Rock being announced in
10 May: Hot off the press comes news of the Almeida Theatre's new season, which opens with BRIGHTON ROCK (press release from Almeida website:)
10 May: More from the Michael Attenborough interview has appeared in Variety:
"The fall season starts in September with the Almeida's -- and Attenborough's -- first musical, "Brighton Rock." It's adapted from the Graham Greene novel whose 1947 movie version starred Richard Attenborough, Michael's pa, as the young psychopath Pinky.
Giles Havergal, a dab hand at Greene rewrites from his work on "Travels With My Aunt," is adapting the book, with music and lyrics from John Barry and Don Black, respectively; Lez Brotherston ("Swan Lake," "The Dark") will design. Bill Kenwright, who has nursed the venture with Barry for some 30 years, brought the show to Attenborough and will move it if reviews and business warrant.
So, are we to expect "Blood Brothers, Part 2"?
Attenborough smiles. "I warned Bill I'm going to do a very hard-nosed production of a bleak, tough, cruel novel. This will be stripped-back, very poor theater" -- though its cast of 18, budgeted for a band of eight, makes "Brighton Rock" the priciest Almeida venture yet."
10 May: There is an article in the Sunday Times (May 9) by Matt Wolf, London theatre critic for Variety, who has been speaking to Almeida director, Michael Attenborough:
"So what do you do for an encore? The Almeida's (and Attenborough's) first-ever musical, for starters, which kicks off his second season in September. The choice of title - Brighton Rock, scored by John Barry, to book and lyrics by Giles Havergal and Don Black - isn't exactly an un- familiar one in the Attenborough household. Michael's Oscar-winning father, Richard, starred as the psychotic Pinkie in the 1947 film, and before that in a separate stage version."
10 April: Award-winning theatre sound designer John A. Leonard has been engaged to design the sound for the forthcoming John Barry / Don Black musical, 'Brighton Rock'.
08 February: An informed source set out the likely dates for the Brighton Rock schedule:
06 February: A change on the Alan Brodie website. It now says:
15 January: Mrs. Barry, speaking recently, said they are all very excited about Brighton Rock which is expected to open late in 2004.
21 October 2003: A very well informed source informed Dave of the John Barry Yahoo group recently: "Brighton Rock is now on the fast track and we hope to open the show next autumn." Thank you Dave, and your source!
06 October 2003: We received news a few weeks ago, saying that "the music had not been completely written and that the show would not be produced within the next twelve months!" So, that would make it October 2004 at the earliest.
Please, don't read too much into this. Musicals take time to develop - Billy took almost 3 years before it was ready. My reading of this is that Barry & Black will continue to polish the songs whilst the producer and director sort out casting and funding, which is also all important.
I'm not surprised it might be another year before it hits the boards and have more faith in this going ahead than I do with any of JB's film projects!
24 July: Brigton Rock is likely to open next year at the Almeida Theatre, Islington, London, where Michael Attenborough (son of Richard) is artistic director. It is hoped that it will eventually transfer to the West End of London and then to Broadway.
29 June 2003: Brighton Rock may replace Blood Brothers
At the launch yesterday of his new biography Wrestling with Elephants, lyricist Don Black revealed more details of the upcoming stage adaptation of Brighton Rock.
Based on Graham Greene's 1938 novel about gang warfare at the English seaside, the musical will have a book by Giles Havergal (who's previously adapted Greene's Travels with My Aunt), with lyrics by Black and music by John Barry.
Speaking yesterday at the Gielgud Theatre, Black described the show as "hell, damnation and Catholic guilt". The stage production will be directed by Michael Attenborough, the Almeida Theatre artistic director and the son of Richard Attenborough, who played outlaw-protagonist Pinkie in the classic 1947 film.
Brighton Rock will be produced by Bill Kenwright and is due to open in the West End in 2004. It may find a home at the Phoenix Theatre, replacing Willy Russell's Blood Brothers, another Kenwright production which, celebrating its 15th birthday this August, may have nearly run its course in the West End.
20 June 2003: The Evening Standard newspaper of June 19 had an interview with Don Black. [page no longer exists] "Brighton Rock" is also mentioned. (JPG format, 260 kB, 1002x1298 pixels).
15 June 2003: Speaking on Michael Parkinson's radio programme Parkinson's Sunday Supplement on BBC Radio2, Sunday the 15th June [page no longer exists], Don Black confirmed that he and John Barry are working together on a stage musical version of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, with Bill Kenwright producing [BR page no longer exists].
The aim is to launch the musical next year, 2004. He said Barry had called it "the first nightmare musical"!! They are very excited about it.
31 August 2002: Brighton Rock is on course for Autumn 2003! But see also: http://www.alanbrodie.com/html/theatre.html[page no longer exists], which gives no dates.
More than 35 years ago, John Barry first began work on a stage musical version of Graham Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’. His collaborators included the author himself, Wolf Mankowitz and Joseph Losey – who John wanted to direct. He wrote several songs and Greene provided some lyrics of a kind, but in the end it was never staged. A few years later John said it had proved too difficult in having a villain as the central character.
However, news is filtering through of another attempt which appears on a much firmer footing. For a start, they have a powerful producer, theatre-owning impresario Bill Kenwright, who by coincidence was in the cast of John’s first musical, Passion Flower Hotel. Don Black is once more ensconced as John’s lyricist – they have written arguably the best of John’s songs together. And they even have a try-out opening date in mind – Autumn 2002. To date John has written at least half-a-dozen songs and assuming they meet with the approval of the producer, Don Black will start writing the lyrics.
To play the part of ‘Pinkie’, the central character, it might be shrewd business to cast a well-known pop-star or young actor. Robbie Williams, anybody? Well, he plainly thinks he *is* hard enough!!!
31 August: Brighton Rock is on course for Autumn 2003!