Ex-Busted star James Bourne and writer/composer Elliot Davis have teamed up to create an original musical inspired by Bourne's group Son Of Dork's album Welcome To Loserville. Having won critical and public acclaim outside of London the show is due to transfer to the West End with previews staring next week, October 1st. With the West End relying on so many 'jukebox musicals' and revivals to get bums on seats, London Theatre Direct applaud any original new show ballsy enough to try and establish themselves and bring something fresh to London. We caught up with James and Elliot in the run up to the show's London debut.
Loserville is based around some of the songs from Son Of Dork's 2005 album Welcome To Loserville. When you put the album out could you have imagined that its journey would take it to where it is now James?
No. I played Elliot the Son Of Dork album and he straight away heard the lyrical story telling in the songs and suggested we write a musical. I had come from a musical background as I played Oliver in the Sam Mendes Palladium Production but my career had taken a more music industry route with Busted.
However, Elliot got us a commission in 2009 with Youth Music Theatre and we had an opening night so we had to write something! We went to LA where I was writing for other bands and wrote the first draft of Loserville in a month or so.
The journey to getting it to the West End first in Bracknell, then in West Yorkshire Playhouse has been amazing. We could never have imagined it but the audiences seem to have really embraced the show which has been the most rewarding part.
When you initially wrote the songs were you planning a concept album or is it just in hindsight that they thread so well together with a musical structure?
The album was totally separate from the musical. As I said, the musical was Elliot's idea but we work as a really great team so it's easy writing with him. We agreed that we never wanted to write a 'juke-box' show and songs that we would only use songs from the album that really worked in the story. We only have five songs from the show in the album, the rest are all new.
The story was the starting point. Elliot came with the idea of it being set in 1971 about a guy who gets two school computers and dreams of changing the world by sending a message from one to the other. Once we had that everything flowed from there.
Welcome To Loserville was Son Of Dork's only album. Were there ever plans for a follow-up?
Not really because I got so distracted with my solo project Future Boy, musicals and writing for all the other acts that I do. However Elliot and I have written another show called Out There which was on in London this summer and we are planning a third show for next year.
Elliot you are longtime friends with James. How did your involvement with the musical come about and what was your input?
As James said he played me the Son Of Dork album and what I heard in the pop songs were three minute short stories. I suggested we write a musical that embraced that rock pop freshness with an original story. James really responded to that and off we went.
James knew me as both a script writer and also a pop song writer as I was signed to Warner Chappells writing songs for artists. I had however moved on to more writing scripts and documentaries for the BBC. In our collaboration I take the lead on the story and script and run everything by James and all new songs are written together. It was like that on Loserville. A great collaboration.
How hard is it to launch a new musical in the West End?
The hardest thing. Like everything hard though it is a journey of stages. You have to have the right creative team, the right show, the right producers, the right investors and then you need that West End theatre owner to come and see it and offer you their theatre. And you need the money! All of those stages are incredibly hard. But even if you achieve all of that you need ultimately the audiences to really respond.
So far we've seen the audience really enjoy seeing an original storyline on stage (a rare thing in musicals). More than anything the energy of the young cast on stage, I believe, is unrivalled in the west end.
The show was well received at its initial run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds which helped secure its London transfer. Nica Burns, the co-owner of Nimax Theatres to which the Garrick Theatre belongs has waxed lyrical about the show. How important was getting someone like Nica on board and what kind of reactions did you get to the show in Leeds?
Crucial. Nica responded so positively to the show in Leeds and without her we wouldn't be here. We were so glad she saw what we had hoped and also so glad that she saw the way the Leeds audience reacted to the show. The target audience for this show is so wide. I have seen an older generation respond in an as enthusiastic way as the young generation.
Overall this is a show with a story line with something for everyone. It's funny, it's fresh and the score gives it a legitimate rock out vibe but with great melodies that are instantly hummable. It's meant to be fun. We just want people to have a great night of entertainment and I think the Leeds audiences really did.
The show has been dubbed a Grease for a new generation. With shows such as Glee still hugely popular, high school angst coupled with romance and catchy songs seems to be a sure-fire recipe for success at the moment. Do you feel the time is ripe to unleash a show like this?
The comparison with Grease is very flattering. We tried to write about universal themes in an original story. New musicals are so hard to get on let alone get right. We hope Loserville offers something fresh for people who love musicals and something new and credible for people for whom this may be their first theatre experience. I don't think there's another show like it in the West End.
Gareth Gates featured in the initial run of the show. How come he didn't make it to the London show?
Gareth was really great in Leeds but we knew what his commitments were over the end of the year period when we booked him. He was already booked for Legally Blonde on tour and then a pantomime at Christmas. We knew he wasn't available in London if we came straight into town, but he was great in the show and we loved working with him.
James, you are quite a prolific songwriter, not only having written for Busted and Son Of Dork, but also numerous songs for McFly as well as tracks for Melanie C and The Saturdays. You're also currently touring as a solo artist under the moniker of Future Boy. We take it you are continually writing - where do you draw your inspiration from?
I've really enjoyed writing for other artists but inspiration comes from all over the place. The good thing about writing for musicals is that the story is so specific you are really searching for the best way for that character in that specific situation to express that emotion. It's a much tighter approach to writing which I really enjoy.
James, have any of your Son Of Dork and Busted bandmates seen the show yet? What were their reactions?
Yes Matt Willis has seen it and Charlie is coming in London. McFly are also coming to the opening night in London. Everyone so far has loved it.
How would you both sum up the show in three words?
Fresh, funny and (lots of) fun!
Loserville is playing at the Garrick Theatre until 2 March 2013. Book your tickets here