Recently I had the absolute honour of being asked to conduct the world premiere of ‘Supertown the Musical‘, written by two very dear and very talented friends, James Sidgwick and Robert Sanders. They are on a journey to expand the super power of their super musical, and I wanted to share with you the story behind this amazing work. So below you will find my guide to writing a Sidgwick and Sanders musical, or better known as how NOT to write a musical, in 3 simple steps:
- Step one: Writing the Musical
A Long Distance Relationship
James and Rob decided early on to involve their other halfs (Claire and Sophie). This was a potential risk, as many of us know working with our other halves can be…tricky. To add to this, during the writing of Supertown, Rob was thousands of miles apart from his partner. I can only imagine how much they missed each other, not seeing each other for months on end, communicating via the shaky internet connection Rob had out at sea (I’m making him sound like a romantic, burly sailor – the truth is he was playing keyboard on a Disney cruise having a lovely old time sunning himself). You can picture how difficult it must have been for our star crossed lovers, who were used to being together every day, watching Game of Thrones together, eating Vienetta, and now so far away. Oh I’m sorry – you think I mean Rob and Sophie? No no, I mean Rob and James! And on top of all that, they were also trying to write a musical together! The distance led to some ‘technical’ difficulties…
As I’ve explained, the shaky and not all too frequent internet access led to some issues. Rob would send James the music he’d written via dropbox, and then James would send him back audio notes on it. All sounds very professional, doesn’t it? But what happens when two friends communicate in this way? That’s right – James would start by commenting meticulously on the music and sharing ideas (work-shopping it), then get distracted and go off into general chatting and gossiping. I know I know, hard to believe…Add to that the issue of Rob’s appalling spelling of lyrics, which upon discovery on the audio tracks James would laugh uproariously, it’s amazing they got any work done on Supertown at all..
Keeping it Clean
There is a song in the show called ‘Action Scene’ depicting some of the shows best loved characters becoming….closer. The song was originally entitled ‘Supersex’ and had to be completely re-written and re-recorded with the complete change in lyrics. ‘Action Scene’ contains plenty of innuendo and double entendres, so I dread to think how rude ‘Supersex’ was. (I might have been sent an early demo of ‘Supersex’ – obviously Rob was far too professional to have shared it with me when James expressly asked him not to show any of the tracks to anyone, however if it happened to have reached my possession, I would be able to say that it was indeed very rude, And very funny. Soz for telling on you to James, Rob!)
Distracted by a Dog
James’ favourite character in the whole show is Dogwoman, who was the last character added to the script. During the show Dogwoman is not only a superhero like all the others, but at times descends into ‘dog-like’ behaviour (from the mind of James Sidgwick, ladies and gentlemen). James’ favourite moment of the whole show is during the song ‘Superhero of the year’, where all the characters are outlining their plans (classic superhero musical theatre material right there) and Dogwoman suddenly gets distracted and ends up playing with a ball. James and Rob has assured me many, many times (too many?) that Dogwoman is supposed to be a sexy take on ‘Cat woman’ and the fact she is called a dog is in no way meant to be derogatory about her appearance.
- Step two: Recording the Demo
The Corridor of Shame
When I first heard about the ‘Corridor of shame I laughed. This was down to James and Rob’s casual dismissal of it as though it was a shared joke. Then I heard Claire and Sophie’s side of the story. In recording the demos for Supertown, James and Rob needed the female vocals of their other halves to ensure that a) they had female vocals on their tracks (obviously) and b) that they could do intensive recording sessions at James’ house (sometimes lasting DAYS). Rob and James at this point knew their music inside out from the months of work-shopping the songs – however poor Sophie and Claire did not. Having no score in front of them and often not hearing their lines more than once, they were expected to perform high quality and accurate vocal lines in one take. When they did not manage to do this after a few tries, they were sent to the ‘Corridor of shame’ – a narrow space in James’ house where they would listen to the vocal line they were supposed to record over and over, and then would return to have another go. Barbaric. James’ reaction to this is to shrug and proudly say ‘worked everytime!’
The First Rule of Recording
James had imposed a strict ‘no drinking while recording rule’ during the recording of the demo which everyone rigorously stuck to. The reasons for this are obvious; a clear head makes for better concentration, and therefore better accuracy of vocal lines; alcohol can cause some severe vocal issues making your voice not sound anywhere near as nice; and when enunciating words alcohol can cause some serious slurring (try saying that when you’re drunk). However, one night James decided to treat himself to a few beers during a particularly long solo session (not a euphemism). After some particularly spectacular tuning issues discovered the next morning, and time lost spent auto-tuning and re-recording all of his lines, James declared the rule sacrosanct, much to the annoyance of everyone else (who had been enforcing the rule all along).
The Superchair – or Furniture Issues
Throughout the recording of Supertown, Rob favoured a particular chair in James’ house (we all do it don’t we? I definitely have a particular ‘spot’ on the sofa and woe-betide anyone who sits there – PEDRO). This became known as the Superchair. The Superchair was clearly a loved and cared for heirloom, being around a million years old (to the nearest million) and had never really been sat on as much as it was during recording. Shortly after finishing the demo it had to be sent to be repaired. However, this was not the only furniture issue. The photo above of the recording sessions of Supertown looks very professional doesn’t it? The posh microphones, set at perfect mouth height. I wouldn’t want you to think this was the case from the start. Initially they had to sing into microphones dangling precariously from James’ kitchen cupboards, hanging off an old blind pole. Resourceful.
Amazingly, despite the close quarters of the recording sessions, and the heavy involvement of their other halfs, there were surprisingly few fall outs. One occurred after James’ night of drinking, and his discovery of some rather mangled harmonies. After listening to the recording of the night before, James spluttered ‘and we call ourselves singers?!’ Shortly after this exclamation, he realised that he was the cause of the bum notes. Nice try at trying to blame everyone else though James. Although being crucial in the recording, Rob is not actually a singer or actor, and in some recordings on the demo this is painfully obvious – auto-tune can’t correct bad acting (sorry Rob!)
- Step three: Pitching the Idea
James and Rob were keen for their beloved society, LIDOS, to perform the premiere of their musical. Despite being on the committee, James had to pitch the idea to them, and became so nervous he actually had to script what he was going to say – a real ‘dragon’s den’ moment.
Luckily, his pitch was successful, and the rest, as they say, is history! Now that you know the stories behind the writing of the first Sidgwick and Sanders musical I would love you to help these two on their journey – please have a look at their crowd funding page for more info on their story, and even some snippets of the show itself – here. I know the boys would be very grateful for any contribution you may feel able to spare that will help them realise their dreams of taking the show to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Can YOU put the ‘super’ in Supertown?