By LONDON (Reuters) – First came the 30 million pop albums bought by adoring fans around the world. Now it’s time to conquer London’s theaterland.
The Pet Shop Boys, understated kings of cool, have combined with playwright Jonathan Harvey to go “Closer to Heaven” in a musical that sets its bisexual love triangle in clubland.Suddenly theater is cool with other pop stars like Boy George, Robbie Williams and Bono all also contemplating musicals.And the writing could be on the wall for traditional musicals like “Starlight Express” and “Phantom of the Opera” that have always packed in the coach parties from the provinces. Box office receipts fell 10 percent last year when they were among the top attractions.So Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer of those blockbusters that are starting to look dated, has moved with the times — he is backing “Closer to Heaven” which is currently previewing at the tiny Arts Theater in London.The Pet Shop Boys — vocalist Neil Tennant and keyboard wizard Chris Lowe — were determined not to succumb to “back catalog syndrome.”London’s West End is already awash in nostalgia trips done the hit parades of yesteryear from “Buddy” on the life of Buddy Holly to “Mamma Mia” which is based on Abba’s greatest hits.A Beatles tribute “All You Need is Love” has just opened. ”Queen: The Musical” is on the drawing board.“It would have been easy for us to build a show around our existing songs and call it ‘West End Girls’ but we absolutely did not want to do that,” 46-year-old Tennant said.“Anyone thinking they are coming to see a Pet Shop Boys medley will be rather thrown,” he said after the duo wrote 15 new songs for the musical.Bringing the show finally to the stage has taken five years.“I was thrilled when I realized it was going to be a proper drama with original music for it,” said playwright Harvey, whose biggest stage hit was the play “Beautiful Thing.”The new musical stars Paul Keating, critically acclaimed for his role in The Who rock musical “Tommy.” He plays a young Irishman torn between his love for a sleazy drug dealer and a club manager’s daughter.Actress Frances Barber plays a Velvet Underground reincarnation who snorts cocaine before her big number.Long gone are the saccharine days of the “Sound of Music” and few would dispute the conclusion of the Sunday Times: ”Musical theater is the new sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to a host of 1970s and 1980s recording stars looking for something new to light their fire.”
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Interviewer: Paul Majendie