Alternative Musical Theatre: When Artists Branch Out


by Joseph Sarrington Smith

David Byrne, ex-frontman of Talking Heads, is writing a musical based on the life of Joan of Arc. Saint Joan will premiere in New York next year on Valentine’s Day (perhaps suggesting that Byrne might be exploring Joanie’s love life?) Byrne himself has said it will be ‘anthemic and spiritual’. I guess all bets on ‘Burn Baby Burn’ being used in the final scene are off then. It all seems rather apt that Byrne is doing this. After all, he has become something of a music renaissance man. In fact, this isn’t even the first time he’s written a musical. A few years ago, he collaborated with Fatboy Slim to create Here Lies Love, a rock musical based on the life of another fascinating figure, former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos.

Another music renaissance man, Damon Albarn, has also ventured into this world., his musical inspired by Alice In Wonderland which can currently be seen in Paris has been an interesting experiment, adding to his previous musical project Journey To The West as well as an opera, Dr Dee; a great opportunity for Albarn to tell the story of a man that most people probably know nothing about.

I can certainly see the appeal. But it also must be quite challenging. The artist has a much broader canvas on which to throw ideas. You’re working with/writing for more people, so there’s a bigger sense of community than there would be in a band. Furthermore, the audience has to be engaged for longer; about 2 hours rather than 45 minutes, which is usually the average length of a studio album.

There are plenty of artists I can think of who I’d love to see write a musical. I hope the trend continues, because I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was there for the opening night of Half Man Half Biscuit’s ‘Joy Division Oven Gloves – The Musical’…


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