Comrades gather to give 'Animal Farm' a musical makeover

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The Independent Culture

A bleak warning about the dangers of Stalinism told through the perspective of a farmyard of mutinous pigs may not seem the most heartening setting or subject for a West End musical.

But in the hands of Sir Elton John and Lee Hall, the award-winning creators of the musical version of Billy Elliot, George Orwell's dystopian novella, Animal Farm, is to be revitalised in an all-singing, all-dancing production for the stage.

Hall reportedly deemed the novella "perfectly suited for the stage", with its assortment of "pigs and other four-legged friends", explaining that famous lines such as "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" lend themselves to lyrics particularly well.

Orwell's classic 1945 work, a lesson in the corrupting nature of power, is studied by English literature students across the country for its elaborate allegorical references to Stalinist Russia. It features three pigs called Napoleon, Squealer and Snowball, who overthrow the drunken leader of the farm, Mr Jones, and establish the "seven commandments of Animalism", a moral code for inhabitants. But as time goes on, the pigs embark on their own reign of terror.

An incendiary tract when it was first published, the CIA is believed to have been covertly involved in buying the film rights from Orwell's widow, Sonia, enabling the production of the 1954 cartoon.

Yesterday, Sir Elton' s publicist confirmed that the singer, who collaborated with Hall on the globally successful stage production of Billy Elliot, was keen on bringing the book to the West End. "I know Elton is interested but this is months or years off. Nothing is certain at the moment," he said.

It is hoped that Sir Elton will write the musical score, as he did for Billy Elliot, with his partner, David Furnish, producing and Lee writing the lyrics.

As the news spread across the internet yesterday, enthusiasts on the blogging website Twitter offered suggestions to Sir Elton for possible song titles, including "I'm Still Stalin", and "Don't go braking [sic] my cart".

Hall reportedly said the musical was unlikely to open to audiences for two years, adding that he was "deep into it, writing songs for pigs and other four-legged friends". It took producers two years to secure rights to adapt the book to the stage.

He said: "We almost gave up, but there was always that one last licence to go after." He hinted that he would work on writing the lyrics first, which would then be passed on to Sir Elton.

"Having worked with him on Billy Elliot, I know that Elton likes to have the lyrics done and have them in front of him so I'll work on a batch before I give him anything to look at. I would think it's going to take about two years before it's all ready to go," he said.

Hall rose to fame with his award-winning screenplay for the 2000 film Billy Elliot, the story of a working-class boy who aspires to be a ballet dancer. The story was adapted for the West End in 2005, with the help of Sir Elton and Mr Furnish, and such was its success that it transferred to Broadway, to immense critical acclaim.

Hall is currently in the process of adapting Michael Morpurgo's book, War Horse, into a film, set to be directed by Steven Spielberg.