You read it here first. On Friday 25 July at London’s St James Theatre, SimG Productions presents a workshop presentation of a new musical revue Anything Can Happen!, specifically created to celebrate the diverse repertoire of the Olivier Award-winning British writing team George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Presented as an industry showcase, with only 100 tickets on sale to the public, the revue features a carefully selected collection of songs from Stiles and Drewe’s musicals including Just So, Honk!, Peter Pan, Betty Blue Eyes, Soho Cinders, additional numbers written for Mary Poppins, plus cut songs and stand alone material. The show also chronicles the history of the writers’ collaboration – told chronologically in reverse! – so the piece finishes with two fresh-faced 21-year-olds meeting over the photocopier at Exeter University.
This brand new musical revue is conceived and directed by Simon Greiff, and produced by SimG Productions (which, it’s not difficult to guess I suppose, also stands for said Simon Greiff).
Within the theatre industry Greiff has become synonymous with championing new musical theatre writing as a dramaturg, director and producer. Having trained at the Central School of Speech & Drama, he worked as a performer in theatre, television and film for 13 years and played a number of leading roles in the West End and across the UK (Saturday Night Fever, Spamalot, Dirty Dancing). He was the also the resident director on the tour of We Will Rock You and the 40th anniversary production of The Rocky Horror Show.
These chances to direct were a sign that Greiff’s focus was gradually shifting away from performing and he soon discovered how fulfilling other areas of the industry could be. Most important among the new opportunities he pursued was the decision to create his own record label, SimG Records, in 2009. He admits that the venture almost came about by accident, as his wife, actress Annalene Beechey, had regularly been asked when she was going to make an album: “I got advice about how to produce, create and sell an album and it went from there. To my surprise, other solo artists approached me about making recordings and lots of British musical theatre composers and lyricists also started asking my help and advice. We were often able to incorporate new writing into what we were doing.”
More than ten years later SimG Records has gained a reputation for being devoted to supporting new writers and artists, and has released 22 albums incorporating original cast recordings, concept albums and the work of solo performers (often from the West End and Broadway). Actor, singer and now producer Stuart Matthew Price’s album All Things in Time was a good example of a solo artist committing to new work with tracks written by Scott Alan, Jason Robert Brown, Grant Olding, Georgia Stitt, Richard Taylor and Laurence Mark Wythe.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time then that the production arm of SimG Records would be created with a similar ethos: to support, nurture and showcase new work to audiences in the form of concerts, cabarets and, occasionally, full productions. These kicked off with the concert Just Me & Them: The Music Of Scott Alan (Leicester Square Theatre) and moved on to new musicals such as Payback (Riverside Studios), Stand Tall – A Rock Musical (45th Street Theatre New York and Landor Theatre) and A Song Cycle For Soho (Soho Theatre).
A recent example of SimG Productions’ approach has been Picture Perfect: A New Musical, a contemporary song-cycle musical using the songs of award-winning American composer Scott Evan Davis, which Greiff conceived and directed at the St James Studio Theatre for four performances at the end of May this year. Greiff puts the production in context: “I met Scott two years ago in New York. He had made a fantastic ’songs of’ album but had not yet penned a musical. I loved the eclectic mix of stories and I suggested that we build a song cycle around the material. It took six months or so of storyboarding, writing a synopsis, and Scott even wrote two brand new songs.
“The most important thing about the performances at the St James was to put a work in progress in front of an audience, to find out if they got it and liked it. The staging seemed really successful and the feedback was positive, so I feel encouraged to keep refining it because it’s nearly there.”
With so few opportunities available to showcase new work, Greiff has also made strides in the world of cabaret with his Emerging Artists series of shows at the Crazy Coqs in central London. These late-night gigs, originally staged as part of the London Festival of Cabaret, introduce regular cabaret customers to original writing.
The process of collaboration which plays a part in all these projects is what Greiff feels most passionate about: “The more we nurture these writers and artists, the best their craft will be. I know I have been judged as someone who only gets involved in new writing, but the challenge of making a new show work should not be underestimated. It takes passion, commitment and belief in what you are doing.”
He comments on the huge contribution Mercury Musical Developments and Perfect Pitch make to new writing, but wishes these kind of organisations had a home where they could bring their members’ work to be developed.
“I know it’s down to money, but I would love to be at the forefront of creating a base for new writers, complete with a performance space, where we could do what we did with Picture Perfect. I can’t think of one writer who wouldn’t want that kind of opportunity.”
As for the future, Greiff will continue to support new work and hopes to combine that with his deep desire to direct, citing the musicals Next to Normal (Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt) and The Light in the Piazza (Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel) as the kind of projects he would love to put his individual stamp on. He also regularly directs and runs masterclasses and workshops at a host of drama schools.
In the meantime he’ll be working his magic with the Stiles and Drewe musical revue Anything Can Happen! in collaboration with four yet-to-be-named West End performers and award-winning musical director/arranger Sarah Travis. Not bad going for one of the UK’s foremost champions of new writing.
Stiles and Drewe’s Anything Can Happen! is at St James Theatre at 1.30pm on Friday 25 July.