Arriving in the UK for the first time, musical The Life makes its long-awaited London debut, directed by the show’s original Broadway director Michael Blakemore. Starring the brilliantly talented musical theatre stars Sharon D. Clarke (Sonja) and Cornell S. John (Memphis), The Life will run at Southwark Playhouse for a strictly limited season from 25 March-29 April 2017, with press night on 29 March.
The Life, featuring a rarely heard score by celebrated composer Cy Coleman (City of Angels, Sweet Charity, Barnum), is based on an original idea by lyricist Ira Gasman and features a book by Coleman, Gasman and David Newman (book revisions for this production are by Michael Blakemore).
Michael Blakemore said: “Getting The Life on in London has been an ambition of mine ever since we did it on Broadway. The score is Cy Coleman’s masterpiece and we’ll be presenting it with the original 11-piece orchestrations. We’ve assembled a magnificent cast and the show seems to have gathered in power and relevance with the passing of time. Funny, sharp and extraordinarily poignant, I think it will be something more than just a good night out.”
Queen, a young girl from Savannah, and Fleetwood, a Vietnam vet with a drug habit, are trying to make it in a merciless New York. Queen is forced into part-time prostitution and ‘The Life’ describes how these two lovers move through this dark world until Queen is helped by her one true friend, an older more experienced hooker, Sonja, to make her escape.
On this journey, we meet Memphis, the all-powerful king pimp; the girls he controls; Jojo, the hustler, who makes it all happen; and the fresh-faced Mary, straight off the bus from small town Minnesota, only too eager to embrace ‘The Life’.
The original Broadway production of The Life opened on 26 April 1997 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It received 12 Tony Award nominations, winning Best Featured Actress and Actor in a Musical for cast members Lillias White and Chuck Cooper in the roles Sharon D. Clarke and Cornell S. John will be taking on in the UK production. The Life was also nominated for nine Drama Desk Awards, winning three, including Best Musical.
Twenty years after Blakemore originally directed the musical, this new production of The Life is produced by Amy Anzel and Matt Chisling, with set and costume designs by Justin Nardella, choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves, projection designs by Nina Dunn, lighting by David Howe, musical direction by Tamara Saringer, and casting by Anne Vosser. Further casting will be announced in due course.
Sharon D. Clarke’s (Sonja) stage credits include Pigs and Dogs at the Royal Court, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, An Oak Tree, Everyman and Amen Corner for which she won the 2014 Best Supporting Actress Olivier Award, all at the National Theatre, A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes at the Tricycle Theatre, Romeo and Juliet at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, Porgy and Bess at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, Blues in the Night at Hackney Empire, Ghost at the Piccadilly Theatre, Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre, We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre, The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, Rent at Shaftesbury Theatre, Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre, Mama I Want to Sing at the Cambridge Theatre, Once On This Island at Birmingham Rep and West End, Little Shop of Horrors at Leicester Haymarket Theatre and Medea at Theatr Clwyd and Young Vic.
Cornell S. John’s (Memphis) stage credits include Porgy and Bess at the Savoy Theatre, Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre, Pacific Overtures at the Donmar Warehouse, The Full Monty at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Messiah on European Tour and Riverside Studios, The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre, South Pacific at Sheffield Crucible, Sweet Charity at the Victoria Palace Theatre, Romeo and Juliet at the Belgrade Theatre, The Meeting at Pleasance Theatre and UK tour, Waiting for Godot at West Yorkshire Playhouse and UK tour, But I Cld Only Whisper at the Arcola Theatre, The Rubenstein Kiss at Nottingham Playhouse and UK tour and Baddies at the Unicorn Theatre.
Michael Blakemore became the first director to win a Tony Award both for Best Director of a Play and a Musical in the same year, in 2000, for Copenhagen and Kiss Me, Kate. For Kiss Me, Kate he also won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. Of the productions he has directed in London, 15 have won either the Evening Standard or Olivier Award in the categories of Best Play, Best Comedy or Best Musical. Blakemore most recently directed Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre starring Angela Lansbury.