Interview – Altar Boyz producer Paul Taylor-Mills is hitting the heights

The cast of Altar Boyz

The cast of Altar Boyz at the Greenwich Theatre, the latest Off-Broadway show producer Paul Taylor-Mills has brought to the London Fringe. Picture: Claire Bilyard

PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS has an impressive list of directorial credits on his CV, but it is as a producer that he has been making his name during the last 18 months, introducing three Off-Broadway and Broadway shows – Bare – The Rock Musical, Into the Heights, and now Altar Boyz ­– to London Fringe audiences.

Altar Boyz, which has its official opening this week at the Greenwich Theatre, is a musical comedy (book by Kevin Del Aguila, music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker) about a fictitious boy band on the last night of their Raise the Praise tour. The Boyz are five all-singing, all-dancing heartthrobs – Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham – trying to save the world one screaming fan at a time.

With each new production (Into the Heights at Southwark Playhouse was acclaimed by audiences and critics) Taylor-Mills has proved he has found a successful model to nurture these musicals on a smaller scale before perhaps taking them on to the next stage. Musical Theatre Review editor Lisa Martland caught up with him.

Is the UK premiere production of Altar Boyz what you hoped it would be?

Since I first heard the score for Altar Boyz, I have wanted to bring it over from New York – it’s such a great send-up, as if Forbidden Broadway meets One Direction. Now it’s arrived, the process has been going brilliantly, and the team is so wonderful, Steven Dexter has become my go-to director for brand new musicals.

When I watched the first run-through in rehearsal, I was so impressed by the stellar cast, they are the real deal. Just when I thought that the show couldn’t get more energetic, another production number would come along. All the focus is on the five ‘Boyz’ (except of course for the voice of God, played by Tony Blackburn!) and the cast members have said they have never done anything like it.

It took several years for you to negotiate the rights for Altar Boyz, the third UK premiere of a Broadway or Off-Broadway musical you have presented in the last 18 months. However, I imagine each experience is different.

The process of getting the rights for a show always varies. I had wanted to do Altar Boyz for three years, then finally a year and a half ago I got the go ahead – in principal – if I was able to get everything together at the right time in the right place. For In the Heights, the gap between securing the show and getting it staged was around four months.

The theatre always wants to know who the cast and creative team are, the US producers want to know who is in the cast and which theatre we’ve picked. It’s like juggling six balls in the air, trying not to drop any.

What attracts you to a project?

As I have become older, it’s become more about my taste and working with people who I like and respect such as directors Luke Sheppard [Into the Heights] and Lotte Wakeham [The Beautiful Game]. It’s important that collaborators share the same passion for a project and are willing to try something different, that they want to play with form, content and style.

The Fringe allows us to try some of these productions out, to tell stories in a different way, but without the pressure of a West End run. I felt strongly that a run on the London Fringe was the right journey for In the Heights. If the show had gone straight into the West End, it would never have found the audience it did. Instead, the audiences found the show instead of it being shoved down their throats. After the first preview there was such an incredible reaction on social media. Over the first weekend we sold out, I was scrabbling around trying to find a ticket for Andrew Lloyd Webber!

In the Heights

In the Heights was a massive hit at the Southwark Playhouse. Picture: Roy Tan

Do you think there is enough done to nurture homegrown musicals in the UK?

There are great people out there promoting new work and trying to give people a leg up, like Andy and Wendy Barnes at Perfect Pitch and Simon Greiff at SimG Productions, but I do think there is a snobbery towards new musicals that results in a fear of trying something new.

I had a producing role at Leicester Curve until June this year – I was really luck to be with them – and was there when the venue staged the brand new musical Water Babies. The piece may have had its flaws, but there was definitely a show there, and with the right nurturing attitude, it might have had a life. Instead people just folded their arms, stood back and really dug in deep against it. Who would touch it now?

If we’re not careful, the big cats will just take over with their film adaptations and new work will continue to suffer.

I know some of your future plans are under wraps, but what can you tell us? Will In the Heights be back?

Yes, the plan is to bring In the Heights back in 2015. I’m not sure where or when, but we have teamed up with a well-known commercial producer who will help us protect what it is special about the show, but also give more people a chance to see it.

We’re also in the fortunate position of discussing the future life of our production of A Beautiful Game and I have another tour of the musical Miracle On 34th Street beginning at Fairfield Halls, Croydon on 1 November.

Plus Luke [Sheppard], Drew [McOnie] and takis [the creative team from Into the Heights] and I know what our next project is likely to be, we just haven’t signed on the dotted line yet.

You’ve had a great deal of success as a director, but are you concentrating on producing for the moment?

I think the roles of director and producer are intrinsically linked, but I suppose I have taken my foot off the pedal directing-wise. I want to play to my strengths: putting the right people with the right projects at the right time (I am helped in this by my brilliant associate producer Kylie Vilcins – we have clocked up 22 productions together now). I also want to do my bit by working towards a fairer Fringe in relation to pay and conditions.

For the first couple of years of producing, I felt I was busking, convincing people I was the right person to use. I am grateful to professionals like my guardian angel, director Hannah Chissick, who took time out to talk to me and encourage me. Now, as more and more people trust in me, I am being sent shows in addition to the projects I have an eye on already. Some will happen, some will never happen – we shall wait and see!

www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk

Readers may also be interested in:

Cast revealed for UK premiere of Altar BoyzNews

Musical On 34th Street musical returns for UK tour – News

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