The other side of paradise

A new musical recalls the gilded but desperate lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
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The Independent Culture

The American novelist F Scott Fitzgerald famously christened the 1920s "the Jazz Age". Writing in 1931, he recalled: "It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire."

The American novelist F Scott Fitzgerald famously christened the 1920s "the Jazz Age". Writing in 1931, he recalled: "It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire."

"Long before Posh and Becks, there was Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald. They were the star couple of the Twenties," explains the producer of Beautiful and Damned, Laurence Myers. "Zelda was the original It Girl - she lived the lifestyle; he wrote about it."

Myers took a roundabout route to becoming a theatre impresario. He started out as a chartered accountant: "I left school with a list of jobs that my mother said were acceptable - doctor, lawyer, architect... Accountant was just another one of them," he says. But after meeting the record producer Mickey Most, his first client, Myers formed one of the leading music business practices in London. He rep- resented The Rolling Stones, The Beatles' Apple Corp, The Animals, Herman's Hermits, The Kinks and Led Zeppelin. Eventually, he left the practice and began managing artists such as David Bowie, Donna Summer and Billy Ocean through his company, GTO. Then, in 1973, he sidled into films and distributed Picnic at Hanging Rock and Breaking Glass. He also produced Diversion, the short film on which Fatal Attraction was based.

It was in the Eighties that Myers moved into stage pro- ductions. He started out with Budgie, the Musical, starring Adam Faith. ("When it was suggested that I produce Budgie, having never produced a musical before, it was a bit like wanting to be an athlete and suddenly running the mara-thon.") Then came Matador. What excites Myers about his third West End production is that it is a new British musical. "I didn't want to do revivals or compilations," he says.

The original concept for Beautiful and Damned came from the Sixties songwriters Les Reed and Roger Cook, who have have had many hits between them, including "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", "Talking in My Sleep", "Delilah" and "The Last Waltz". Seeing its potential, Myers scooped up Zelda, the Musical (as it was then called) and hired Broadway's best musical arrangers, Larry Blank and David Crane (who did the music for the film of Chicago). The production is choreographed and directed by Craig Revel Horwood, who has worked on the recent West End productions of West Side Story, Martin Guerre and the award-winning Spend, Spend, Spend.

Michael Praed and Helen Anker, who co-starred in the award-winning Contact, play Scott Fitzgerald and his wife. "Not only was Zelda beautiful, but she was a very talented painter, writer and ballet dancer," Myers says. "She was always held down by the conventions of the times and was subservient to her husband. She suffered from mental illness and died in a fire in a mental asylum in Asheville, North Carolina. Although the couple had unbelievably glamorous lives, they were also damned."

'Beautiful and Damned', Lyric Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1 (0870 890 1107) opens on Monday

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