Yes, the BBC broadcast a fifteen minute musical about Blair and yes, we are one of two Blair musicals at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe, and in a way that was inevitable. Blair's leadership was all about glitz and glamour and transfers naturally to the world of musical theatre; even his speeches sound like song lyrics. But if the prototype for a Blair musical was actually put down by Blair himself, then we have tried to match that in making this the biggest and boldest Blair musical to date. Whilst that doesn't necessarily equate to it being the best, we hope that it is in some respects at least the most ambitious.
First off, we didn't at any stage want to take the easy route of mockery, poking fun at Blair simply because it's easy to ridicule any leader, especially one who has outstayed his welcome. Well we're happy to ridicule David Blunkett for being a fascist, or George W. Bush for being a fool. And there is an entire song about how Michael Howard's face resembles a bottom. But with Blair we always felt it was important to take him seriously - to try to see events through his eyes. Many of Blair's detractors have undermined their criticisms of him by portraying him as a fraud, but without acknowledging both Blair's intelligence and achievements any satire about him will be vapid. We were interested in what has motivated him and how his very public (and some would say inevitable) drop in popularity might have affected him.
We also wanted to do something less conventional in a musical sense. We didn't just want a collection of comic songs about the events of the past ten years (although yes, there is an entire song about how Michael Howard's face resembles a bottom ) but we wanted to use music to give depth to events and characters, so that musical themes and motifs became an important part of the narrative itself. In this respect parts of the musical are almost operatic, which certainly fits the scale of what we want to achieve; at the end of the day the music allowed us to do things with a cast of eight that we wouldn't have got away with otherwise, which is not to detract from their achievements in coping with a score that would benefit from a Les Miserables-style chorus of sixty.
If that all sounds a bit pretentious for your taste, though, there is also an entire song about how Michael Howard's face resembles a bottom.
Throughout these notes I may seem to have been employing the royal "we", but I deliberately use the plural because the development of this show would not have been possible without the input of the director and musical director. Both Delyth and Chris have been a constant support in the creative process, with constructive and valuable suggestions for both the script and the music. It's due to them that I've been able to finish the musical in an absurdly short space of time, and it has been a joy to see them take what I've written and turn it into something better and bolder than I ever imagined it could be.
Somebody had to write a musical about Tony Blair. There was no good reason that it should have been me except that I decided that I wanted to do it first - and even there I failed. I've grown weary of people asking me "wasn't there one of those on the radio a while ago?" and telling me "you know somebody else is doing that at the Fringe this year?"
clever and unique. The musical form means that the heightened moments - of triumph or of defeat - can soar. The songs are funny and fitting and complex. There is a strong sense of detail that pervades the work, which appeals to me enormously and makes the task of directing it a challenging and pleasurable undertaking.
We knew from the beginning that we didn't want to obscure the observations and storyline that James Lark has formed (chronicled), with impersonations. Instead our task is to create performances that capture the spirit of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the other figures that humanise them whilst we laugh at what they have done and failed to do over the past ten years.
The score for "Tony Blair - the Musical" is one of the most original on which I have ever worked. Although this is James's first musical as composer, the originality of the score is hardly surprising for a classical composer of many years' experience, with works recorded for CD and performed by such ensembles as the choir of St. Paul's Cathedral. A musical voice versed in everything from species counterpoint
Directing Tony Blair - the Musical is an opportunity to work with a writer whom I respect very much, on a subject that possesses (as we have witnessed in film, television and theatre throughout his time in office) an enormous range of possibilities in a performance context. Although Blair's story has been treated many times over the past ten years, I believe wholeheartedly that this production is worth being involved with, because the writing has a charm and a humour that is
to 1990s cheesy pop, with little missed in between, has produced a score which contains nods to many different composers and styles (Cole Porter, Weill, Sondheim and Richard Taylor to name but the most important) whilst never losing its own musical independence.
As the orchestrator of James's score, I have tried to follow James's lead - the orchestration of Your Politics Come Straight From The Heart is a loving tribute to Cole Porter, there are nods to Weill in The First of May and It's Very Unfortunate, hints of Jonathon Tunick's orchestrations of Sondheim in It's Very Unfortunate, and the power ballads are steeped in the styles of various 1970s/1980s pop/rock groups. The fact that these orchestral colourings are able to be so overt is an assertion of the strength of the score; James's bold and original musical language refuses to be subsumed by the existing canon of musical theatre repertoire.
From a musical direction point of view, TB possesses all that a musical theatre score should: fiendish tenor lines; the huge chorus numbers (The First of May, It's Very Unfortunate, Oh What A Lovely War Against Terrorism), the upbeat (Your Politics Come Straight From The Heart - Cole Porter's You're The Top on speed , The Michael Howard Song); and the character songs that contribute so much to dramatic development (Not a Day for Soundbites, Throwing In The Jowell/A Second Term, Balancing The Books, Sedition). In a show for which the same writer has written book, script, lyrics and music, it is inevitable that the musical numbers are inextricably linked with the dramatic progression and this, I feel, the biggest strength of the show: never is a song too long; never is a line wasted; never is an opportunity for dramatic progression missed.
A final word: when I was first asked to work on this show, my concern was that it would be a "yah-boo-sucks" musical - critical with no good reason, satirical well past the point of cruelty. However, as soon as I read the script and listened to the music, I was won over. James's finest achievement in TBTM is making satire subtle, providing both sides of the argument, presenting both the highs and the lows of the Blair years, and creating a sympathetic emotional response towards those characters with whom, in the name of "satire", it would have been easier to focus on their problems rather than their achievements. I hope you too are struck by this delicate and fine balance, so difficult to achieve yet so poignant in execution.