The British are coming!
Earlier today, I attended an exclusive preview of the upcoming world premiere of “My Very Own British Invasion,” a new musical that opens at the end of this month at Paper Mill Playhouse, the Tony-Award-wining regional theater in Millburn, NJ.
I joined the incredible cast and creative team at their rehearsal space on the Upper West Side, a stone’s throw from Lincoln Center, where they’ve been spinning music into gold in anticipation of opening night on January 31.
In a special guest appearance, Peter Noone (above, second from right) was there to support the young talented artists who brought his story to life, which inspired the musical. British singer/songwriter Noone is the legacy lead singer of Herman’s Hermits, one of the prominent English beat rock bands of the famous British Invasion of the 60s. Founded in Manchester in 1964, Noone sang with Herman’s Hermits until 1971, and he continues to thrill audiences on world tours.
Paper Mill Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director, Mark S. Hoebee, said that the idea of hosting the world premiere came about through his friendship with one of the show’s producers, Hal Luftig, in good company with the musical’s other producers, Craig Haffner and Rodney Rigby, and Yasuhiro Kawana and Sherry Wright.
We were treated to three musical numbers from the show with everyone in casual jeans, t-shirts, and kicks, and essential props. We actually peeked some stage costumes hanging on a rack, and it seems like the costume designer curated some gorgeous bold geometric prints, metallic-thread pastel florals, and rich romantic suedes (below!), which we can’t wait to see under those stage lights!
The Tony Award-winning book writer, Rick Elice, (below, right) introduced each scene and highlighted the musical chestnuts under the musical direction of Lon Hoyt, and the direction and choreography of Jerry Mitchell.
The story explores a love triangle between the three protagonists, which Elice called, “the greatest geometry for story-telling,” because it comprises of two forces pulling against a central force. The three principal leads here are Jonny Amies as Peter, the fresh-faced hero; Conor Ryan as Trip, the bad-boy rocker; and Erika Olson as Pamela, the pop-star love crush.
In the story, all three are very talented, young, and want to be stars, and we discover their very different paths taken through England and America.
The musical aims to capture the rock and roll Zeitgeist of the 60s, which kicked-off in 1964 when The Beatles sparked the “British Invasion” via their legendary appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
As Elice explained, the musical harnesses the unique 1960s atmosphere of the historic London music club, The Bag O’Nails, where all the bohemians hung out before they were big stars, dubbed the “bright young things.” Young artists such as Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, all of The Beatles, Lulu, and Dusty Springfield would hook-up and perform for each other, hoping to crack the American market with its many millions of fans. Careers were launched, romances were sparked, and managers were found, like here, John Sanders as Fallon, Bryan Fenkart as John, and resident bouncer, Daniel Stewart Sherman as The Hammer. Our compelling MC is Kyle Taylor Parker as Geno, an American ex-pat who had established a singing/recording career in London.
Act I kicks-off in London (photo above), which showcases the talent, exuberance, skill, and spirit of the diverse ensemble: Travis Artz, Gemma Baird, John Campione, Emma Degerstedt, Trista Dollison, Jay Donnell, Graham Scott Fleming, Douglas Goodhart, Cory Jeacoma, Sage Melcher, Jen Perry, and Daniel Yearwood.
Other preview scenes included a tender sweet love duet between Peter and Pamela set on an ocean liner (photo above and below), although the set-up is waaaay too spoiler-y to share — you’ll have to go see it yourselves! We also saw the culmination of Act I’s love triangle that simultaneously mirrors the two male protagonists as they plot their routes from England to America.
I obviously won’t critique the performances since this was just a preview, but I’ll say this: this is a show for lovers, for music lovers, and for dreamers!
If you’re a dreamer, there’s a lot of inspiration about pursuing your dreams. If you’re a lover, the grand message is that love conquers all. And if you’re a music lover, you’re in for a treat — the musical hits flow seamlessly. The soundtrack features more than two-dozen chart-toppers from the British Invasion catalog such as Herman’s Hermits verses: “I’m into Something Good,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” and “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am.” There are also lots of songs from the Beatles and The Animals, among others. You can find the full list below, which was just announced today!
Are you ready for the British Invasion? We can’t wait to see the polished production under the stage lights, period costumes, and full sets!
The world premiere of “My Very Own British Invasion” opens on January 31 and runs through March 3 at Millburn, NJ’s Paper Mill Playhouse. It marks the third consecutive production of the regional theater’s 2018-19 season, currently celebrating its 80th anniversary.
Now check-out some short preview clips of the action, music, and dance! Enjoy!