Barry Morisse is an AI ethicist and thinker working with South African entrepreneurs. In his spare time he feeds his passion for theatre with his theatre club StageDoor which organizes group events for shows in Johannesburg.
I’ve always wanted to write my own musical. As a real theatre fanatic it’s a rather alluring idea to try and come up with one of my own and see it manifested on a stage. I hope I’ll have the guts to give it a go one day.
Of course, writing a good musical (never mind a great one) is a monumental task. You’ve got to have an intriguing plot with an unpredictable twist, nuanced characters that audiences can root for, 10-12 hit songs that advance the story and some overarching motifs that leave the audience with something to think about. All of this needs to be done with a deft touch, understanding the context and cultural significance of the era that you choose to set the story in. It’s a serious feat of creative storytelling.
Jonathan Roxmouth’s show ‘Lenny, Andrew, Steve and Me’ is a tribute to three of the most prolific creators in musical theatre history – digging into how they wrote the shows that have stood the test of time.
The first of which being Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story, On The Town, Candide, amongst others) a supremely talented conductor and composer who was incredibly versatile throughout his career. He wrote for a number of ballets, operas , film scores and choral performances – and his music still resonates today almost 30 years after his death.
The next titan, Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, amongst others), is a familiar name to all musical theatre lovers. His illustrious career spans over 50 years and includes 43 awards across the Tonys, the Golden Globes and The Oliviers. His trademark style is unmistakeable in his music and his storytelling – you can smell a Lloyd Webber ditty from a mile away. Some call him one-dimensional, but you simply can’t argue with the results. His shows are performed and loved all over the world and will continue to do so for a very long time to come.
Lastly, Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, Company, amongst others) rounds up the trio. Another fantastic musical theatre creator, Sondheim is known for writing fascinatingly compelling villains in his shows. We’ve seen somewhat of a renaissance for complicated ‘bad-guys’ in the last few years and Sondheim’s musical creations fit that bill perfectly – making the pay-off at the end of his shows that much more satisfying.
Jonathan Roxmouth, with the help of pianist Rowan Bakker, takes the music of these three titans and weaves it into a prototypical musical structure to show the audience how traditional storytelling arcs repeat themselves again and again – regardless of setting and genre. He does this with the charismatic charm and grace that has made him one of the most popular theatre practitioners in South Africa. His vocal skills shine through in a show that does away with a lot of the fluff and just focuses on the essence of musical storytelling.
What I enjoyed most about the show is that he chose to perform a lot of songs that were not predictable choices. Instead of taking the easy road and singing hit after hit from the vast array of shows written by these three gentlemen (and there are plenty of hits) he is more strategic about selecting musical moments that are more authentically illustrative of what is required to advance a plot. He jokes about how this rubs some people the wrong way – as all they want to hear is their particular favourite song – but I agree with him in that it creates a show where a bunch of songs pulled out of their original context are woven together into something entirely new. It breathes new life into songs that are underestimated by the theatre community.
(But don’t fear – there are still a number of the famous songs that you can tap your toes to. There’s plenty for everyone. The encore itself is worth its weight in gold – and you need to experience that live.)
All in all, it’s a feel-good show designed for those of us who love musical theatre and who appreciate the tremendous creativity required to pull together a compelling story that makes us forget that we are sitting in a theatre in the first place. Long live musical theatre.
Lenny Andrew Steve and Me is currently on at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino. Tickets are available at Computicket and the box office.