Fifty years after he started writing it, Quasimodo, a major musical by Oliver! composer Lionel Bart, will finally get its World Premiere at the King's Head Theatre in London this month, March 2013.
Bart wrote the words and music for Quasimodo, based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris, in 1963. It was hoped that the poignant tale, set in 15th-century Paris, of the love between the deformed bellringer and the beautiful gypsy girl Esmerelda would make it to the West End and Broadway, where it would have joined the list of Bart's stage hits: Lock Up Your Daughters, Fings Ain't Wot They Used t'Be, Oliver!, Blitz! and Maggie May. But it was never produced in his lifetime. He died 13 years ago in 1999 in London.
A semi-staged workshop for investors and producers in 1995 at the Soho Laundry, featuring Tony Award-winning Frances Rufelle as Esmerelda, Ray Shell (currently playing the manager in The Bodyguard) as Quasimodo and Peter Straker, was the nearest it came to the West End. A recording of that workshop still exists with Lionel himself playing the piano as part of the band.
Bart said at the time of the workshop: "I've been fascinated by this story since I saw Charles Laughton as the hunchback in the 1939 film version. I was inspired by the story of this marvellous soul within a monstrous body. But in the original story the hunchback is only 18 - not Charles Laughton at all. Esmerelda is 16, a street kid. With the obsession of the priest, Frollo, who is the hunchback's mentor, it suddenly came together as an involved, modern, dark subject. The simple premise of the piece, when I wrote it, was the question, 'What is ugly?' I hoped that you could realise, when you left the theatre, that the guy at the end of the row wasn't so ugly after all. It's a tragic story, but about being free to change, free to renew oneself. In a way I became the hunchback. It's a great release and a catharsis for me to put it all in this work."
The King's Head Theatre production, produced by TheatreUpClose, will have a cast of 8.
Director Robert Chevara scored a major success earlier this year with the first London production of Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carré since its West End premiere in the 1970s. His production won rave reviews, sold out the King's Head Theatre and transferred to the West End to Charing Cross Theatre
When Lionel Bart was six, a teacher told his parents that he was a musical genius. After initial success in the pop world, working with Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, Anthony Newley and?Adam Faith among many others, Bart won three Ivor Novello Awards in 1957, four in 1959, and two in 1960. In 1960 he was given the Variety Club Silver Heart for "Show Business Personality of the Year". His greatest stage success was the musical Oliver!. It opened at the New Theatre (later to become the Albery Theatre) on 30 June, 1960 and received 23 curtain calls. It ran for 2,618 performances in London. It opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran there for 774 performances. The 1968 film version, directed by Carol Reed, won several Oscars, including Best Picture. The musical Twang!! in 1965 was a flop but Bart tried to prop up its failing finances with his own money. He then sold the rights to his past and future works, including those of Oliver! to keep himself solvent but he was forced to declare himself bankrupt in 1972. In 1986 he received a special Life Time Achievement Ivor Novello Award. Cameron Mackintosh, who owned half the rights to Oliver!, revived the musical at the London Paladium in 1994 in a version rewritten by Lionel Bart. Cameron Mackintosh gave Lionel a share of the production royalties. Lionel Bart died of cancer on Saturday 3 April, 1999 aged 68.
The King's Head Theatre was London's first pub theatre since Shakespeare's time, founded in 1970 with 51 West-End/Broadway transfers to its credit. Multi-Award winning Adam Spreadbury-Maher became the venue's second ever Artistic Director in March 2010, relaunching the venue with a revolutionary opera and theatre programme. Since 2008 Spreadbury-Maher's Production Company has become well renowned for staging world premieres and first time revivals of work by some of the most well-known and respected playwrights of the modern era including Edward Bond, Arnold Wesker, Peter Gill, Nick Ward and Tennessee Williams.
Quasimodo will play the King's Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN, from tonight, Wednesday 20 March to Saturday 13 April 2013, running Tuesday - Saturday 7.15pm and Sunday 3.00pm, and Saturday 13 April at 3.00pm and 7.15pm.
Tickets: Previews: 20 & 21 March: all seats £10.00. Tickets: £15.00 - £25.00. Box office: 020 7478 0160 or www.kingsheadtheatre.com.