Don’t make Billy too nice!

Don’t make Billy too nice!

Where does a musical come from? The process of collaborating with composer and writer, James D Reid, has been going on for some years now. He first approached me about 10 years ago with the idea of turning The Diamond of Drury Lane into a stage show and it has taken that long to get to the point where maybe it might just happen…

Clearly, a lot has happened over those years (more intensively in the last two or three) but I thought I’d share some of the moments that show how the writer of an original work collaborates with an artist in a different medium of musical theatre.

It’s been great fun – and it helps that we are both insanely passionate about life in 1790s London, each of us having different bits of the puzzle – but more about that in other blog posts. For my first post though, I wanted to share with you one of our biggest debates: how wicked the anti-hero of the piece, Billy Shepherd, should be.

When you hand over your novel for adaptation, you have to be prepared for some changes. Some are easy, such as Cat starting a little older to allow for an adult casting call. I had in mind for the books a growing up over a long series; Jamie only has the one show! I also knew what was going to happen after the end of the book, so I had the advantage of the long view. I showed him how Billy, my villain, changes from the first book to become something of the boy you love to hate in later volumes. And that is how Jamie wrote him in the musical. Billy naturally gets (in my view) the best songs. However, when Jamie sent me the book (that’s the musical term for the script) I noticed that Billy had edged into being a good guy acting bad to hold his position because he feels responsible for everyone.

So I said ‘Please don’t!’

The point of the attractive bad boy is that on one level he is really bad. If we find out he’s good then he becomes…well…less attractive. My Billy in the books would really stick the knife in if necessary, and sometimes when not necessary. Billy in the musical isn’t as bad as that but he needs to stay on the wrong side of the line. Jamie changed the line that made him too nice and I hope Billy stays that way. We’ll have to see what the producer and director wants to do with him.

Jamie and Julia on location in 2018!

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