Showtime Challenge: 48-hour musical

Showtime Challenge: 48-hour musical

By Jo Caird 05/05/11

On Sunday 8 May, Her Majesty’s Theatre will be hosting a one-off performance of The Boyfriend, in support of the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts. The twist? The show will be staged in just 48 hours, as part of a bonkers undertaking called Showtime Challenge. Director John Sheerman tells us about getting a musical ready for the West End in a weekend…

People assume that we keep our actors going for the entirety of the 48 hours, which not only is not true, it’s not wise either.

As any musical theatre practitioner will tell you, if actors don’t get any sleep, you’re not getting a noise out of them. So in actual fact, we’re talking about Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday daytime.

I block the entire show in advance, so I know how it will look before I’ve even really properly met the actors. Although I’ve done it several times before, you never get used to doing it this way.

Our company manager has the real bugger of a job of putting together the schedule for the weekend. The leads are needed in so many different rooms – they’ve got dance numbers to learn, sessions with the MD, costume fittings – so we try and use Friday evening for that kind of thing.

Then my big push starts come Saturday morning. I chronologically block the show with the actors all day. They all know the script before we begin of course, but the only way they really know what’s happening is to be able to see it from beginning to end.

In the past, I’ve worked on the basis of having around six-and-a-half minutes rehearsal time per page. Although that’s a terrifying figure, it gives you a really good idea of how things are going, because if it’s midday and you’re at page six, you know you’re in trouble. The Boyfriend is around half the length of some of our previous Showtime Challenge shows, so I’m hoping that my average minutes per page should have improved.

Our first ever Showtime Challenge, Into the Woods, was a really difficult one because the score of that show is so complex. We had staggered through the technical aspects of the first half of the play, but hadn’t done the second, so during the performance, I was on a set of cans at the back of the theatre saying, “Lights up on them, lights down on them”.

There’s always the risk of people losing their voices and, of course, with a project like this, you can’t understudy because there’s just no time. You can only hope that somebody else might be able to remember the words if things got desperate.

On Sweet Charity, one of our semi-leads almost broke her ankle at one point, coming off stage during the first half. I don’t know how she did it, but she went on and did the second half of the play with all her numbers and dancing to do. I think that’s the closest moment we’ve had to total disaster. We’ve never got to a point – touch wood – where there’s been anything that meant we couldn’t go on with the show.

At the end of the performance, I know that every single member of the cast feels an immense sense of achievement. They’re never going to feel like they nailed it the first time and they’ll always feel they can do it better, but it’s an incredibly rewarding thing to do. Although I’ll feel more sure of that when we’ve done it!


John Sheerman was talking to Jo Caird

The Boyfriend is taking place at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 8 May. To book tickets and support the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, visit the Eyebrow Productions website.

If youre looking for extra money to market your show at Edinburgh this year, apply for Ideas Fund Edinburgh Marketing, which is awarding 10 lots of £500.

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