Nora Ephron’s 1993 romantic comedy Sleepless is Seattle has been adapted for the stage as a new musical. As the first indoor musical to play to live audiences after the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s a story that is bound to tug on your heart strings. I spoke to lyricist Brendan Cull about why this is the perfect show for audiences returning to the theatre.
Telling the story of a grief-stricken father named Sam who moves to Seattle with his son Jonah after the tragic death of his wife, when Jonah phones a radio show, Sam is forced to talk about his broken heart. People across America are touched by his story and he suddenly finds himself as the most sought after single man. When feisty journalist Annie starts looking into the story, she too finds herself moved by his story.
With the original film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, it’s an enchanting story that has proved to be a true classic.
“We wanted to take that feeling of nostalgia and romance from the film and bring that to the musical,” Brendan said. “Working alongside Robert Scott who is creating the music, we decided to go for a big band style. Our inspiration for the whole score was the 50s era.
“One of the good things about the film is that it feels timeless. Robert and I knew that this musical wasn’t going to be a carbon copy of the film, so we decided that by using a big band style of music, it would allow the musical to feel like it could be set at any point.
“We want the audience to have the same feeling they get when they watch the film. We hope they feel excited, romantic and something larger than life. We felt we could give them that same experience through our score.”
Following the story we all know and love, Brendan describes the musical to have the same feel as the film without being word for word. “We’ve been really lucky because the book for this show has exactly the same tone as the film – it is very quick and witty,” he explained. “When I was approached about getting involved with the project, I jumped at the chance. We’ve been working on this show on and off for six years now.
“Robert and I got together and thought ‘right, where do we start’. We went through the script and then went back through the movie and picked out the moments that felt like songs.”
The new musical was meant to open just a few days after the lockdown, but with the theatre industry shutting its doors for months on end, it is now the first indoor musical to open. The Troubador theatre in Wembley is modern and spacious, allowing them to have strict social distancing in the auditorium and backstage. With daily testing for the cast and crew, this production are pioneering in their safety measures.
“It is paving the way into giving people work in the industry and it is pretty much one of the only ones able to do that right now. It is amazing what they have been able to do with all the restrictions in place,” said Brendan. “Everyone is watching. If they can make this work, it means that other theatres can hopefully follow suit. It is one way of getting shows back on again.”
It has been a bleak time for the theatre industry, with bad news after bad news, but this show is injecting hope into a dark time.
“Initially I thought, is anyone going to want to go? But I feel like maybe they will now because people are willing to do whatever they need to do to move forward,” Brendan said. “ If I have to wear a mask, I’ll wear a mask, if I have to sit on my own, I’ll sit on my own. People are much more open to it.
“It is a show about hope. Maybe it is the sort of show that we need, something that is romantic and something we can escape to. I think that is why musical theatre has always been so successful, because it is able to remedy what is going on in the world.”
Sleepless will be so many people’s first musical after months without theatre and Brendan feels like it is the show that everybody really needs right now.
“The reason we have romantic comedies is because it gives us that warm fuzzy feeling. I want this show to feel like a tonic, especially at the moment.
“One of the themes of the show is that sometimes things are beyond your control and there is a little bit of magic in the air. Hopefully people leave thinking about that idea – I think that is something all romantic comedies should do. To me, that is where the music comes in, it is that little bit of magic.”
Sleepless the Musical is open at the Troubador Theatre in Wembley until the 27th of September, tickets and information can be found on their website.