Website Header

Jump to navigation

A Marriage Made In Heaven Betty Blue Eyes The Musical

A Marriage Made In Heaven

By composer and lyricist George Stiles and Anthony Drewe

Sarah LancashireWe have the composer Stephen Schwartz to thank for our involvement with Betty Blue Eyes. Around the time that Ron and Dan came up with the idea for the stage musical they had dinner with Stephen (Dan had appeared as an actor in one of the first productions of Godspell, and they have been friends ever since) and told him about A Private Function. They asked Stephen for suggestions as to who might write the score and he replied that there were only two people he could think of, Stiles and Drewe. At the time we were still busy preparing Mary Poppins for her maiden flight on Broadway – so much so that our beloved agent, Patricia Macnaughton, didn't think it was the moment to trouble us with ideas for a new project. Thankfully for us, Ron and Dan were undeterred and waited until Mary Poppins was safely ensconced at the New Amsterdam Theatre before approaching us again – and we were intrigued. We only had a vague recollection of the film with Maggie Smith, Michael Palin and a pig, but we agreed to meet with Ron and Dan on our next visit to Los Angeles.

Reece ShearsmithSince we normally initiate our own ideas for musicals, and indeed had several new projects that were put on the back-burner during the writing of Mary Poppins, we were not sure we were going to embrace the idea of A Private Function as we drove to Brentwood, LA, in the last week of January 2008 – but then we met Ron and Dan and that changed everything. What was supposed to be an 11am brunch meeting turned into lunch, which turned into dinner, and the marriage was made. Not only did we adore the writers, but we loved their vision for adapting the screenplay. For two Americans they had an amazingly British sensibility, and for two writers who had never written a musical before they had an extraordinary grasp of song placement and what can be conveyed musically and lyrically. The morning after meeting them we wrote the first song, ‘Fair Shares for All’, and the next two songs followed in quick succession, ‘A Place on the Parade’ and ‘Magic Fingers’.

Cameron had heard from Patricia that we were adapting an Alan Bennett screenplay and that in her opinion we weren’t getting on fast enough with the writing. Thus, unbeknown to us, Cameron had something of an agenda when, in January 2009, he took us to dinner in Amsterdam during pre-production for the Dutch Mary Poppins and asked us what we were up to. When we told him we were working on two or three projects simultaneously he said, ‘You're mad! You should concentrate on one and get it finished – the Alan Bennett’. Without wishing to let Cameron know that we were taking his advice, we went away and concentrated solely on writing A Private Function until it was finished (it doesn't do to let producers know they are right!)

Betty Blue EyesNine months later, having completed the score, we were seeing Cameron for a Poppins meeting when he asked, ‘When do I get to hear it?’ We told him of an impending workshop of the show that we’d organised to attract potential producers. He replied: ‘I’m not saying I want to produce it; I’m not saying you’d want me to produce it – I’m just saying that as your friend, I’d love to hear it.’ So, we presented him with the full script and songs on a Wednesday in October 2009, telling him that we needed a reply by the Friday (it doesn't do to let producers have too long to make their minds up!). Always one to rise to a challenge, he did read and listen and called on the Friday morning to say he loved it and would like to produce the show. Between October and December we worked with Cameron at fine-tuning the score and injecting even more of what he describes as ‘delirium’ into the musical numbers. It was a very happy time as the score started to find its fully-fledged moments of fantasy that have become something of a signature of the piece. It was then at a hugely memorable lunch in London on 16 December 2009, with the snow drifting past the window at Elena's L'Etoile restaurant, that Cameron moved us to tears by saying that he had known us for 25 years, and that it had been well worth the wait (it doesn't do to let producers rush you!). At the same lunch he produced a wonderful initial rendering of the poster by Dewynters with the title Betty Blue Eyes – we were immediately sold on the new name and on the graphic. The only downside was that 2010 was a very busy year for Cameron with some French show of his, hence we had to wait until March 2011 to see Betty Blue Eyes batting her eyelids at the Novello – but we too think it was well worth the wait.

Next Previous

Website Footer

Back to top