We had a mind to write a family comedy, and a single, silly visual gag was all we needed to start us off: BILLY THE KID, starring an actual kid. We asked ourselves, what if we were to write the story of William Antrim (a.k.a. Billy the Kid), that legendary outlaw of the American West, and to cast the tiniest most talented teen we could find? Would we reach an audience? Would we find a theatre? Thanks to the NYMT, we found everything we needed and more in 2017…
For those who aren’t familiar with the work of the National Youth Music Theatre, one look at its list of alumni is enough to see the enormous impact it has has on the world of MT. As an incubator of performing talent and a major producer of new musical theatre it’s a force to be reckoned with, and as an experience for performers and writers, its intensity and quality is simply unbeatable. The 2017 NYMT Season featured several new works and we were enormously flattered to have our show commissioned and developed in such esteemed company.
Our task was to reimagine the story of Billy for an ensemble cast of fearless, tirelessly talented young people. Thus we cherry-picked from legend (and freely from the rich history of the American West in fiction) to create a world full of danger and excitement, hoedowns and showdowns, populated by characters both comic and tragic, and everything in between. There had to be a moral, of course. We wanted our Billy to learn from his mistakes in a way that the real-life Billy the Kid never had a chance to do. However, the tone of these lessons came not from American history but rather as a consequence of writing about America during a time of increasing tension in US (and indeed global) politics. The simple message of our show, that we get more done when we work together in peace, has consequently never seemed so timely.
Themes of immigration and inclusion are very much at the forefront of BILLY THE KID; heavy themes, but tempered with the lightest comedy. Rising to the challenge of combining politics and pathos in a family show were director Kate Golledge and choreographer Darragh O’Leary. Between them, Kate and Darragh were able to conjure up every set piece we imagined and a few we hardly dared hope for. And together they marshalled a quite extraordinary cast of youngsters who brought so much creativity, energy and fun to the process it should have been bottled and sold. Likewise, Charlie Ingles, our Musical Director, conducted with wit and vigour a 19-piece orchestra through a chicane of American musical styles. As you’ll hear, the tracks range from a small John Denver-esque ballad right up to a full-sized Hollywood chase sequence via several big band jazz numbers. It’s no exaggeration to say that the full score would have been a challenge for a professional ensemble: for a youth band it was a rodeo-riding, whip-cracking adventure, but they proved themselves to be more than up to the task.
The people we met on this show, the cast, the band, the crew and everyone else involved, all helped make this a very special experience, and we’re honoured to call them our friends for life. What we developed in our rehearsal room last Easter, and then took to the stage of the Leicester Curve in August 2017, is a story we are uniquely proud of, the pinnacle of our professional lives so far. If you enjoy what you hear half as much as we enjoyed making it, we’re sure you’ll have a blast.
Ben and Rich, 2018