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Interview with COMPANY Musical Supervisor Joel Fram

Joel Fram Photo by Helen Maybanks
Joel Fram Photo by Helen Maybanks

Joel Fram Photo by Helen Maybanks

Joel Fram is an international music arranger and conductor. He has worked extensively in the West End and on Broadway. He also happens to oversee the Musical Theatre Writing Workshop at the National Theatre.

I thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with Joel during tech week as he has literally the most important job. He’s making COMPANY happen. “I am one of many people making COMPANY happen,” he says with a laugh. “My job is to look after the music department and make sure we are taking good care of Mr. Sondheim’s score.”

Fram knows what he is talking about. He conducted WickedScandalousSweet Smell of SuccessThe Music Man,and Cats on Broadway and his West End productions include the London premiere of Wicked (starring Idina Menzel).

Company

Company

In many ways, Fram is the ideal ambassador for the new West End production of George Furth and Stephen Sondheim’smusical Company. Exuberant, concise and full of life. “To be in the room with this amazing cast and our fantastic orchestra, singing through this iconic score – what a thrill,” he says.

Joel is working alongside Marianne Elliot on the upcoming gender-swap production of COMPANY. Elliott changed the character – originally a mid-thirties singleton Bobby – from male to female, Bobbi. Sondheim gave his blessing to proceedings, as well as sanctioning minor revisions to the script.

Being Musical Supervisor on COMPANY must be a career high right? “It has been a career highlight to work with Marianne, the great Stephen SondheimDavid Cullen – all people I’ve admired for many years,” he says. “Steve is courteous and supportive. When Marianne and I were in his living room, pitching this idea for the show, we were making a big ask – switching the gender of a leading character in a very famous, ground-breaking musical.”

Where does he go from here? “I’m not sure what’s next – but for now, I just want to live in this very special moment”, Fram reasons.

Today, though, COMPANY is where his heart is. “COMPANY is the product of great minds, and it seems that this piece was and is very personal to all of its original creators. But as we worked through our concept, it became clear that Steve has a real affection and respect for Marianne and her work. He was willing to take a gamble – and he’s been incredibly generous and supportive every step of the way.”

As for there being three productions by Elliott running in London simultaneously from November with Curious Incidentplaying a limited run at the Picaddilly Theatre, Company at the Gielgud, and her production of War Horse returning to the National Theatre; Fram is thrilled. “I just became aware of that yesterday,” he says. “It’s a notable feat in itself, but it also has a lot to say about a long-overdue re-balancing of women’s roles in the theatre.”

“Marianne is such a thoughtful and inspiring director,” he beams.

 “We are in the hands of a wildly inventive thinker, someone who investigates every single word of text. She won’t settle for anything less than the truth, and I think that is what makes her work so successful, moving and enduring. Marianne works so carefully on the scenes – but she also puts her eye on the songs in the same way, investigating both music and lyrics in terms of dramatic structure,” says Fram.

COMPANY boasts a top-notch cast and creative team. What can we expect from them? “Rosalie Craig brings such warmth and humanity to the role, and Patti LuPone is a remarkable Joanne – to name just two.”

“Conducting actors of this calibre is an honour. Songs are dramatic journeys, little one-act plays; there are some actors you help lead through that journey and some who show you the way – Marianne has made sure we are all telling the same story together,” he says. “Also, I have the most amazing orchestra in the West End.”

What does he enjoy doing that has nothing to do with his career? He laughs. “I am an avid baker – you could say obsessed – so imagine having Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyc in the cast! I mean, I can barely breathe when she walks in the room,” says Fram.

“Anyway, throughout rehearsals, however late or tired I was when I got home, I made sure I baked – every single day. Let’s just say I’ve heard that I have some big fans in the company – well, ­fans of my biscuits, at any rate. And I take requests.”

I ask him to choose between musicals Gypsy or Follies. “Oh God. That is a very tough question.” Pause.

“I don’t think there could be a life without either… I would say the best way to answer is: ‘Waiting Around for the Girls Upstairs’ and ‘If Momma Was Married.’ So, both.”

Company runs at the Gielgud Theatre from 26 September to 22 December 2018.

Tonic celebrates Harriet Walter, Marianne Elliot and Nina Steiger in the fourth panel event from Tonic Theatre

Tonic Celebrates

Tonic Celebrates

Tonic Celebrates


Tonic Theatre  has announced the full panel for their fourth Tonic Celebrates, which will take place at the Soho Theatre Upstairs on the 31st July. Tonic Theatre’s Director Lucy Kerbel will chair the conversation between acclaimed actress and writer Dame Harriet Walter, award-winning director Marianne Elliott and dramaturg Nina Steiger.

Tonic Celebrates is a series of events foregrounding the achievements of inspirational women in theatre. Each event brings together a group of remarkable women, all of whom are leaders in their field, to discuss their careers, work, and successes, before the floor is opened to the audience for questions.

Dame Harriet Walter’s most recent theatre credits include the Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar Warehouse, which, amongst universal acclaim, received a Tonic Award. Her performance in Mary Stuart, also for the Donmar Warehouse, was awarded an Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actress. Her other theatre credits include Boa (Trafalgar Studios); Death of a Salesman (RSC/West End); Dinner, Life Times Three, The Children’s Hour, Arcadia (National Theatre); Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Cymbeline and Three Sisters (RSC), for which she won an Olivier Award. Her extensive screen credits include The Crown (Netflix), London Spy (BBC), Downton Abbey (ITV), The Sense of an Ending, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Little Dorrit (BBC), Atonement, Babel and Bright Young Things. She is the author of three books: Other People’s Shoes, which explores her thoughts on acting; Facing It, reflections on images of older women and Brutus and Other Heroines, about performing Shakespeare’s roles for women.

Also joining the panel is Nina Steiger, the first member of a literary department to take part in a Tonic Celebrates. Nina is Senior Dramaturg at the National Theatre. Previously, Nina worked as a writer and director in New York, before becoming Associate Director at Soho Theatre, where she commissioned and developed work with new playwrights and theatre-makers. Nina has also worked as a consultant, working with artists and organisations on narrative development, audience engagement, strategy and creative directions. She teaches regularly at some of London and the UK’s leading writing programmes and is a fellow of the Clore Leadership Programme and a graduate of McGill University.

Harriet Walter and Nina Steiger join previously announced panellist, Olivier and Tony-award winning director Marianne Elliott. Marianne is the Artistic Director of the newly founded Elliott & Harper Productions, established with producer Chris Harper. Their first production, Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, opens at the Wyndham’s Theatre on 3 October, and stars Kenneth Cranham and Anne-Marie Duff. Most recently, Marianne has directed the sell-out production of Angels in America at the National Theatre, starring Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane and Denise Gough. Her other theatre credits include Husbands and Sons, The Light Princess and Rules for Living, also at the National Theatre, where she was an Associate Director. Her productions of War Horse and A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time with the NT have transferred to the West End, Broadway and toured extensively. She has won two Tony awards for Best Direction of a Play and an Olivier Award for Best Director. She was an Associate Director at the Royal Court and previously she was Artistic Director of the Royal Exchange Theatre.

The fourth Tonic Celebrates follows previous successful events at the Ambassador’s Theatre, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe and the National Theatre. Previous
panelists have included Globe Artistic Director Emma Rice, writers Moira Buffini, Tanika Gupta and Jessica Swale, lighting designer Paule Constable, designer Vicki Mortimer, Tricycle Artistic Director Indhu Rubasingham, NT’s Director of Producing and Planning Sacha Milroy, and leading fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.

Tickets are available through Soho Theatre box office.

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Talks, Events and Exhibitions at the National Theatre: Highlights for 2017

National Theatre
  • Newly announced talk with Tony Kushner, writer of Angels in America
  • Talks with the cast of Angels in America, including Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane
  • Follies related events including talks with the cast and director Dominic Cooke
  • Comedian Matt Lucas will discuss his new memoir Little Me: The A-Z of Matt Lucas
  • National Debates series continues, with talks addressing issues of class and LBGT+ rights

Talks and events relating to Angels in America will begin with writer Tony Kushner, who will discuss the plays and his work in conversation with Ola Animashawun on 30 June. Andrew Garfield, who plays Prior Walter, and Denise Gough, who plays Harper Pitt, will then discuss their experiences of performing in the show in a talk chaired by Kate Bassett as well as award-winning director Marianne Elliot who will reflect on directing the show in conversation with Susannah Clapp, both on 3 July. Finally, Nathan Lane, who plays Roy Cohn, and Russell Tovey, who plays Joe Pitt, will talk about being part of the show with Matt Wolf on 17 July.

2017 highlights will also feature Follies related events including discussions with cast members Josephine Barstow and Tracie Bennett (18 December) and Philip Quast and Janie Dee (14 September) who will reflect on the challenges and rewards of performing in the show. DirectorDominic Cooke will also discuss this new production on 18 October. Cooke is an Associate Director of the National Theatre and has previously directed August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which won the Olivier Award for Best Revival. Designer Vicki Mortimer will explain how the show’s set and costume design came together, from the initial concepts through to the designs that can be seen on stage and offer the opportunity to see the model of the Follies set on12 December.

Talks and events related to the world premiere of Mosquitoes include Distrusting Science on 21 September, programmed in collaboration with CERN and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The talk will ask; ‘Do new discoveries make you fearful of the future of science?’ discussing the public perception of scientific research into areas such as radiation, genetics and particle physics. On 25 September, designer Katrina Lindsay will then explore her processes for the set and costume design of this new play.

The NT’s series of National Debates will continue with events relating to the Queer TheatreEvent Series with LGBT+ Rights – sorted? on 6 July, which will explore UK and global issues for LGBT+ communities. Relating to Saint George and the Dragon, Class – an unequal nation? On2 November will see a panel explore how class affects our chosen path in life and how easy it is it to break out of the social hierarchy. Is the class system still relevant in 21st century Britain?

Other Saint George and the Dragon related events include designer Rae Smith explaining how the production came together with an opportunity to see the set model on 20 November, followed by writer Rory Mullarkey and director Lyndsey Turner reflecting on the production on 23 November.

Events not related to the repertoire include a talk with comedian Matt Lucas, who will discuss his new memoir Little Me: The A-Z of Matt Lucas on 6 December. Other highlights include Russian Theatre on Stage on 9 November, which will explore the rich theatrical responses to the revolution in Russia throughout the years, as well as a talk by Steven Berkoff, who in his eightieth year will reflect on his career as playwright, actor and director on 2 October.

Upcoming exhibitions include National Theatre Posters which will explore the evolution of poster design at the National Theatre and showcase many classic examples from October –March. The Linbury Prize for Stage Design exhibition will showcase work by twelve emerging stage designers working with some of the UK’s leading theatre, opera and dance companies including Unicorn Theatre, Mercury Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and Phoenix Dance Theatre between October and January.

For further information, for the full programme of talks and events, and to book, visit the NT website.

Listings

Tony Kushner on Angels in America Friday 30 June, 5.30pm, Lyttelton, £5/4

Andrew Garfield and Denise Gough on Angels in America Monday 3 July, 2pm, Lyttelton, £6/£5

Marianne Elliott on Angels in America Monday 3 July, 5.30pm, Lyttelton, £5/£4

Nathan Lane and Russell Tovey on Angels in America Monday 17 July, 2pm, Lyttelton, £6/£5

Josephine Barstow and Tracie Bennett on Follies 18 December, 3 – 4pm, Olivier, £7/£5

Dominic Cooke on Follies Wednesday 18 October, 6 – 6.45pm, Olivier, £7/£5

Philip Quast and Janie Dee on Follies Thursday 14 September, 3 – 4pm, Olivier, £7/£5

Designing Follies with Vicki Mortimer Tuesday 12 December, 5.30 – 7pm, Duffield Studio, £7/£5

Making Mosquitoes with designer Katrina Lindsay Monday 25 September, 5.45 – 6.30pm, Dorfman Theatre, £7/£5

Distrusting Science Thursday 21 September, 6-7pm, Cottesloe Room, £7/£5

National Debate: LGBT+ Rights – sorted? Thursday 6 July, 6 – 7pm, Dorfman Theatre, £6/£5

National Debate: Class – an unequal nation? Thursday 2 November, 5.45 – 6.45pm, Dorfman, £7/£5

Designing Saint George with Rae Smith Monday 20 November, 5.30 – 7pm, Duffield Studio, £7/£5

Rory Mullarkey and Lyndsey Turner on Saint George and the Dragon Thursday 23 November, 6 – 6.45pm, Olivier, £7/£5

Little Me: The A-Z of Matt Lucas Wednesday 6 December, 5.45 – 6.45pm, Olivier, £7/£5

Russian Theatre on Stage Thursday 9 November, 5.45 – 6.45pm, Dorfman, £7/5

Steven Berkoff Monday 2 October, 5.30-6.15pm, Lyttelton, £7/£5

National Theatre Posters, Wolfson Gallery from October 17March 18 

The Linbury Prize for Stage Design, Lyttelton Lounge from October 17Jan 18

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REVIEW: Angels in America