Sleepless in Seattle musical heading for the West End in 2015?

Inspiration for a new musical can come from any number of places, but the film industry has a long-established corner on the market, having produced many nuggets of musical gold over the years. Music-makers have tapped into the popularity of countless films to create stage counterparts, but it’s a practice that yields varying results. The musical adaptions of such films as Sister Act, The Bodyguard, Ghost and Once are some of the successes of recent years, and every time a new production is met with a positive response, the search for the next hit film-to-stage adaption is renewed with fresh hope. There’s no guarantee that just because a film is a ‘classic’ it will fare well in the transfer from screen to stage though, so where to look?

Picking a film which was listed by the American Film Institute (AFI) as one of the Top 10 Best Romantic Comedies seems like a good place to start.

A musical adaption of the award-winning 1993 film, Sleepless in Seattle, has been in the works for a while now, and after several readings, workshops and a short Off-Broadway run last year, the creators of the show have now set their sights on bringing it to the West End – with a little help from some friends as the show has just launched a Crowdfunder campaign with the aim of attracting fans as potential investors.

Sleepless in Seattle is the story of Sam, who is raising his son, Jonah, as a single father following the death of his wife, and Annie, a newly-engaged reporter. She hears Sam talking about his love for his late wife on the radio after Jonah calls into a talk show looking for a new mother, and touched by his words, writes to him and asks him to meet her on top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. With thousands of miles between them however, and an onslaught of women equally captivated by Sam’s story, the question is whether or not they will find their way to one another? The 1993 film starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and was inspired in turn by the 1957 film, An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.

The idea for a musical version began several years ago, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the show which has had to overcome a number of problems. It was first due to make its début at the Pasadena Playhouse, US in June 2012, but was pushed back to the next season after the Playhouse’s Artistic Director, Sheldon Epps, stated they needed ‘additional time for further creative development’. The show was forced to undertake a radical overhaul following the departure of its songwriting team, but came back ‘stronger and better’ the following year with it’s third team in place. Ian Fraser and Leslie Bricusse were replaced by Michelle Citrin, Michael Garin and Josh Nelson, who have now been replaced by composer Ben Toth and lyricist Sam Forman. They came on board to re-work the show with book writer Jeff Arch, who co-wrote the original film. Sheldon Epps directed the production, which also featured choreography by Spencer Liff, scenic designs by John Iacovelli, lighting and projection designs by Brian L. Gale, sound designs by Carl Casella, costume designs by Kate Bergh, music direction by David O and orchestrations by Michael Starobin.

The world première of Sleepless in Seattle – The Musical was staged at the Pasadena Playhouse where it ran between 24th May and 23rd June 2013. Tim Martin Gleason and Chandra Lee Schwartz starred as the romantic leads Sam and Annie in a cast which also included Todd Bounopane, Robert Mammana, Sabrina Sloane, Sachin Bhatt, Terron Brooks, Jay Donnell, Cynthia Ferrer, Charissa Hogeland, Katharine Leonard, Teya Patt, Adam Silver, Yuka Takara, Lowe Taylor and Carter Thomas, with a particularly praised turn from child star Joe West as Jonah. Produced by David Shor Productions, the show received a mixed response, but the majority of reviews were positive. It was generally agreed though that the show needed a little more tweaking before it would be ready to make the move to the Big Time.

A concept album was recorded at the Angel Studios in London during July 2014, with Robert Scott and Brendan Cull now credited under music and lyrics respectively. On the show’s Crowdfunder page, it states that development is expected to be complete by early-2015 and that they hope to open in the West End that same year, with further plans to take the production to Broadway and on a world tour. Differing from other theatrical projects which often request donations in return for incentives such as credits and/or merchandise, tickets, etc, they are instead seeking investors for the show, offering a ‘pro-rata share (based on in-place front money investor agreements) of the show’s profits on a preferred return basis.’

Some shows blaze into the West End and Broadway and are instant hits, while others take a little longer to get off the ground. Some get off to a good start, but fail to build the momentum to take them where they want to go. What the eventual fate of Sleepless in Seattle will be, who knows? It might end up fading away unnoticed, or it could be the big West End hit of 2015.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Thursday 16th October 2014

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