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Divine Intervention Betty Blue Eyes The Musical

Divine Intervention

By book writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman

Betty entered our lives unexpectedly, but with such perfect timing that one can only regard her appearance as Divine Intervention -- or, at the very least, a porcine blessing in disguise.

At the time, back in 2005, we were the executive producers and writers of a television series filming in Toronto. If any of you has ever done that sort of thing, then you know that your hours aren't 24/7. They're more like 25/8. After being at the studio all day, our "writing day" would usually begin after midnight and often last until three in the morning. On one of those cold, Canadian nights -- it was around 2am. -- Dan took a break to make himself a cup of tea. He clicked on the TV. And that's when it happened. There on the screen was -- The Pig.

One of the channels was airing Alan Bennett's and Malcolm Mowbray's delicious film, "A Private Function", a favourite of ours. Perhaps it was the late hour. Perhaps there was something in the tea. Perhaps he was simply out of his mind from overwork and exhaustion, but as Dan likes to tell it, "The pig started singing to me." Then it struck him. What if we were to adapt this film as a stage musical? As it happens, we had been longing to return to the theatre for some time. It's where our hearts have always been and where our careers began. We had met -- dare we say it? -- forty years ago, as young playwrights at the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference in Waterford, Connecticut.

Ron's initial reaction wasn't quite as enthusiastic as Dan's. "They kill a pig and eat it! Not exactly 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning'!"  A lot of arguing but not much writing was done that night. However, as we started truffling around (sorry!), we began to discover delectable possibilities. The characters had strong wants. There were social and political conflicts between the "haves" and the "have-nots". And there was certainly a reason to sing. In hard times, what better way to express one's hopes and dreams than in fantasy and song?

Now, one might wonder -- and many have -- how two Americans could possibly relate to life in a small Yorkshire town in post-war Austerity Britain. While it's true this particular story may be set in the North of England, rather than, say, Baltimore or Cincinnati, nevertheless, it's a universal fable that could happen anywhere. It's a story about hunger. And not just hunger for food. Hunger to be noticed, hunger for attention, hunger to be accepted. Who hasn't felt that? Or how it feels to be rejected, bullied and dismissed like Gilbert and Joyce? Or the desire to get even? Desperation leads to desperate acts. In Bennett's screenplay, these desperate acts are hilarious, thanks to his singular wit. But underneath the laughter are the painful repercussions of a country ravaged by loss and starvation. The contrast of dark and light, the collision of farce and tragedy, have always appealed to us and have been a part of everything we've written. 

With that in mind, we began our work.

Once again, Divine Intervention led us first to our treasured collaborators, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who have given these characters glorious musical expression with their inspired score. Then to our esteemed director, Richard Eyre, unerring in his taste and talent. Next to Stephen Mear, who possesses the uncanny ability to transform one’s thoughts into movement. And finally, and most felicitously, to Betty's loving godfather, Cameron Mackintosh, a producer who produces with his heart, not his chequebook. Trust us, we know the difference.

But that's not quite the end of Betty's tale. We must confess that we would like to credit ourselves with some prescient gift of being able to "see around the corner".  But the truth is, when we started work on "Betty" in 2005, we had no more idea than anyone else that in 2011 there would be a New Austerity Britain, or that a Royal Wedding would once more be a celebration of hope and pride in the midst of a very difficult period -- just as it was in 1947. Of course, one could dismiss this as a curious coincidence. But by now we recognize it for what it is: Divine Intervention once again. Proving that there are more things to heaven and earth than these two Americans can comprehend.

In fact, at this point, you could probably convince us that when no one is looking, pigs really do fly.

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