Music director Adam Wright glams Uptown Players’ Pet Shop Boys musical
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
CLOSER TO HEAVEN
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Oct. 1–24. $30–$40.
Mention the Pet Shop Boys and what comes to mind is techno-pop — hardly the stuff of musical theater. But when Uptown Players opens Closer To Heaven Friday, that mindset will change. The company is producing the sole stage venture by the band, which comes with the same tone as their albums. And that means the production’s musical director, Adam Wright — whose background is in classical and jazz music — is doing some major gear-shifting.
“We had to reconstruct a lot of the music,” he says. “The music that was sent with the materials had just two parts and not a lot to go off of.”
His job might have gone easier if Wright were in communication with the Pet Shop Boys … or if he was already a fan.
“The extent of my communication with them was through their Twitter updates,” he says. “I’d love to learn more about how they program and write. I wasn’t as much a fan as some of the people in the cast. My parents did buy me the Liza Minnelli album Results they produced. I’m certainly more of a fan now after working on this.”
The subject of the musical is perhaps more relatable to Wright. Set in gay London in the 1980s, it’s a dark show with racy queer content he can appreciate. But the task of turning that vibe into a musical theater idiom was a challenge.
Wright had only the original London cast recording to work from, which is dominated by the Pet Shop Boys electronica sound, which he orchestrated for a six-man band to offer a live concert experience. His priority, however, was staying true to the songs PSB wrote.
“With electric drums and two keyboards, we can mimic some of that techno sound,” he says. “There are some guitar moments. It’s really intricate programming and having the band makes it easier and way less complicated.”
His musicians will not only recreate the dance beats, but also meld them in accord with choreography and plot — and PSB’s signature style.
“There is a lot more going on in the songs than you think, so it was pretty daunting,” he says. “Normally with a live band, embellishments are added, but we had to stick to the appropriate style. Even the minimal songs have a repetitive, dance-y nature.”
All that required a close collaboration between Wright, director Bruce Coleman and choreographer John de los Santos. Wright especially sympathized with the challenge de los Santos faced of balancing fluid and narrative movement against Wright’s job to keep the proper but continuous beat of the music — and to primarily keep the audience interested.
“There have been ups and downs in this creative process,” he says. “I’ve certainly felt overwhelmed, but I enjoy the challenge doing new things. That motivates me even if I have to pace in a circle for an hour until it comes to me.”
With weeks of preparation and arranging, Wright’s work still hadn’t clicked with him until Uptown began running the full show in rehearsals. After seeing it as one cohesive piece, he settled and relieved some of his stress going in.
“At that point, it felt possible and easy,” he says. Now he’s more concerned if the audience will be fans: Many out-of-towners are flying in especially for the show, which makes its North American debut — but Uptown knows this is difficult material. The litmus test will be opening night.
“I know some expect a certain kind of music in theater, but the nice thing is the show starts with a bang and they’ll know right away what they are in for. “
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 1, 2010.