Pop goes the musical

Theatre, ballet and opera are embracing some unexpected talents
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The Independent Culture

They are more used to performing to packed stadiums, but stars of rock and pop are now turning their attention to other arenas. When the Pet Shop Boys' first ballet score is performed at Sadler's Wells in London next month it will be the first of a glut of productions featuring music written by mainstream popular artists. Others include Ghost: The Musical from Eurythmics' Dave Stewart and an opera, The Tell-Tale Heart, by Stewart Copeland, the former Police drummer.

Alison Duthie, head of the Royal Opera House's ROH2 programme, which commissioned Copeland for its OperaShots series, says there has been a growth in "crossover work" in recent years.

"It can be the most exciting area because it's asking people to do something very different from where they are comfortable," she says.

Of course, pop and rock musicians, including Elton John, The Who and Abba's Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, have written widely for the stage in the past.

Brian May, a founding member of Queen and musical supervisor on the hit show We Will Rock You, says it was a steep learning curve going into musical theatre as a novice. "We have been part of this trend; we have changed musical theatre and I am proud of that," he says.

Alistair Smith, deputy editor of The Stage, believes that if musical theatre is to remain relevant it needs to embrace popular music styles.

The National Theatre's current production Frankenstein features a score by the electronic band Underworld. Matthew Scott, the theatre's head of music, says that commissioning musicians who do not usually write for the stage is a way of attracting new audiences. But, he warns, "you can get seriously unstuck if you cast the wrong composer for the wrong project".

Harry Shearer

The Spinal Tap musician, best known for voicing characters in The Simpsons, is in talks to bring J Edgar! The Musical – a comedy about the first FBI director, J Edgar Hoover, for which he wrote the lyrics and book – to London. Shearer, twice nominated for a Grammy for best comedy album, may also write some new music for the production.

Tori Amos

A new musical with music and lyrics by the American singer-songwriter will open at London's National Theatre in April 2012. Playwright Samuel Adamson will write the script and additional lyrics for the as yet untitled production, which is based on George MacDonald's story The Light Princess. Marianne Elliott will direct.

Sir Paul McCartney

The Beatles legend announced last week that he is collaborating with New York City Ballet's Peter Martins on a new work for the company that will premiere in September. Ocean's Kingdom is his first orchestral score for dance. "What was interesting was writing music that meant something expressively rather than just writing a song," he said.

James Bourne

The former Busted member's Loserville is being optioned for a West End run. Youth Music Theatre UK is staging his musical Out There at South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell, in August. "If you look at Wicked and the new musicals coming out, the ones that are really working are the ones that are more pop," he said.

Joby Talbot

The former Divine Comedy member has composed the score for the Royal Ballet's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The production, which premieres tomorrow, is the first full-length ballet commissioned by the Royal Ballet for 15 years.

Scott Walker

The former singer with the Walker Brothers has written the score for a new work commissioned by ROH2 and based on Jean Cocteau's 1932 play Duet for One. It will be performed at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio Theatre in June.

Lily Allen

Bridget Jones: The Musical, which Helen Fielding has adapted from her original chick-lit phenomenon, is currently in development following a workshop production in June. The producers have held discussions with Allen and Greg Kurstin, who has worked with the singer in the past, about composing songs for the show.

Tim Minchin

The Australian comedian and musician wrote the music and lyrics for the Royal Shakespeare Company's new musical version of Roald Dahl's children's story Matilda. After a successful run in Stratford the show is expected to transfer to the West End.

Dave Stewart

Stewart, of Eurythmics fame, has co-written the music for Ghost :The Musical with the Grammy award-winning producer and songwriter Glen Ballard. The production premieres at the Opera House, Manchester, at the end of March.

Pet Shop Boys

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, who wrote songs for the Young Vic's Christmas show My Dad's a Birdman, have composed their first full-length dance score – for Javier De Frutos's The Most Incredible Thing, which opens at Sadler's Wells in London on 17 March. They said that, after writing for the club dance floor, writing music for the ballet seemed a "logical development".