Big mouth strikes again: now Morrissey is to be the subject of a West End musical

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The return, in restrained middle age, of Britain's best-known miserablist has been accompanied by some pretty incongruous scenes in the past few months. Morrissey as the television celebrity, touring the studios to promote his new album, took almost as much getting used to as plans for the Morrissey heritage centre, which is to be built in the singer's beloved Salford.

The return, in restrained middle age, of Britain's best-known miserablist has been accompanied by some pretty incongruous scenes in the past few months. Morrissey as the television celebrity, touring the studios to promote his new album, took almost as much getting used to as plans for the Morrissey heritage centre, which is to be built in the singer's beloved Salford.

But the most eye-catching reincarnation of all happened yesterday with news of plans for Morrissey, the stage music production, which will open at London's Lyric Hammersmith theatre next July.

It sounds like the ultimate betrayal of all those 1980s gladioli and elegies to "this land's cheerless marches, hemmed in like a boar between arches" in the legendary chart-topping song "The Queen is Dead". Smiths internet chatrooms have been characteristically downbeat, with some fans worrying about the prospect of Ben Elton, who wrote the Queen musical We Will Rock You, "doing a West End number" on Morrissey and fellow Smiths band member Johnny Marr, as rumours of a show have circulated in the past few days.

But the production company behind the show, which is scheduled to start rehearsals in May, promised yesterday that the show would be "the antithesis" of Mamma Mia and nothing like a musical and emphasised that the Lyric - a theatre known for its sophistication - had been selected as the venue instead of the West End.

Promisingly, the show takes its name from the title of a song by The Smiths, which certainly didn't take itself too seriously: "Some Girls are Bigger than Others". Morrissey said the lyrics were inspired by his gradual realisation of this important fact of life. For good measure, he threw in fleeting allusions to Antony and Cleopatra in deference to the film Carry on Cleo.

The stage show will see more than 20 Smiths songs arranged for string quartet, with a percussive lute accompaniment, and sung live by a cast of six. Precisely which songs are to be used remains the subject of rights negotiations between the producers, Morrissey and Marr, which have yet to be concluded. The show's writers are Andrew Wale and Perrin Manzer Allen, the duo who created the hugely acclaimed Jacques Brel's Anonymous Society five years ago. This show was an hour-long piece of musical theatre in which translations of 20 of the Belgian singer's works were used to create a series of highly charged interlinking performance fragments.

The plans for The Smiths' oeuvre is similar. The show - more opera than theatre and described by its producers as a "film without a text" - will be neither biographical, nor set to a musical score but evolve through a loose pastiche of scenes linked to each of the songs. Video sequences may also be included.

Michael Brazier, associate producer, told The Independent yesterday: "Each song has a life of its own but they are connected by the way the performers behave on stage.

"It is not a linear story. There will be action going on on stage whether it's dance or movement or acting without words depends on the scene. Sometimes the song - and what the singer is saying in the song - will be the main line of action. But other times when you are concentrating on the singer, out of the corner of your eye you will be seeing impressionistic goings- on elsewhere on the stage. The significance of that [action] will become clear later. The meaning of these clues will gradually reveal themselves."

Precisely what involvement - if any - Morrissey and Marr will want in the final production remains unclear. The idea came from Wale and Allen, fans of The Smiths, who saw potential to replicate the success of the Brel show in the complex emotions of the band's lyrics. Morrissey and Marr have agreed to the idea, though final discussions have yet to be concluded.

The approach by Wale and Allen provides further evidence of the renaissance of Morrissey since he returned from self-imposed exile in Los Angeles. He has forsaken the cardigans in favour of angular suit jackets and sensible shirts and the nearest he came to gladioli-waving on his emotional return gig in Manchester this summer was a piece of greenery sprouting from his trousers.

But 2004 seems to be the year of his big return. He has conquered Glastonbury and Reading, curated London's Meltdown Festival and released the acclaimed album First of the Gang to Die which features "Irish Blood, English Heart".

If the Brel show is anything to go by, the show will do as much to engender a popular understanding of The Smiths' work than any of Morrissey's new appearances. The 19 songs in Anonymous Society conveyed a web of dislocation and alienation and the Smiths' work has the same complexity, according to Brazier, whose Glynis Henderson production company is also behind the successful percussionist group, Stomp.

"You're [sometimes] not quite sure whether the music is angry or witty. That's the way the writers chose to pursue this band's music," said Brazier.

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