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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 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.