Entertainment

The Great British Baking The Musical

The Great British Bake Off is turned into a musical

John Owen-Jones and contestants in The Great British Bake Off Musical (Picture: )

A supporting role actress who ends up marrying the president of Argentina. A group of mafia gangsters played by kids armed with splurge guns. A psychopathic hairdresser who slits his clients’ throats. At first glance, neither of them sounds like proper source material. And yet, Evita, Bugsy Malone, and Sweeney Todd became some of the most successful stage musicals of all time.

So it’s a brave man to dismiss the idea of ​​The Great British Bake Off Musical on the eve of its West End opening. Set to an original score, it is written by multiple award-winning duo Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics).

It was May 2020, cinemas were closed due to Covid and producer Mark Goucher approached Jake and Pippa, following their success with the musical version of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole, to ask if they could come up with a short treatment and a couple. of test songs. for a show based on Bake Off.

Jake, 36, recalls: “I was a huge fan of the TV show just like Pippa. That camaraderie of a group of strangers united in a tent seemed like the perfect setting for a musical. So we continued in that vein until, after two more years, we finally had a finished show.”

Following a successful two-week trial at Cheltenham last summer, which included some rave reviews, it will now move to London’s West End for a 12-week season.

At no time did Jake or Pippa consult Prue Leith (Pam Lee onstage) or Paul Hollywood (Phil Hollinghurst on the show).

Stars of the musical Bake Off

Musical Bake Off stars John Owen-Jones, lead, as Bake Off judge Phil Hollinghurst (Picture: )

“But Prue came to see the show in Cheltenham, bringing with her every member of her team, from her publicist to her gardener. She was very complimentary.”

Says Prue, “It’s an uplifting, funny and moving story that will have you singing and dancing outside the theater with a big smile.

“A sweet theatrical treat. Just what we need right now.”

Paul Hollywood has yet to weigh in, having been denied the chance to see the show in Cheltenham when he was down with Covid. Jake isn’t worried.

“Obviously, Phil is based on Paul but, as with Prue, the actors playing them aren’t imitating anyone; they’re very fictional comic versions of real people,” says Jake.

The show is built as if it were an unaired series of Bake Off on TV, but compressed into a couple of hours or so on stage.

The challenge, of course, was finding a way to continue including all ten bakers in the story, even after they’ve been individually eliminated from the contest.

“We came up with some clever tricks,” says Jake, “to keep it a joint show at all times.”

Unusually, and unlike Elton and Bernie Taupin, for example, Jake and Pippa write the music and the lyrics together at the same time.

“I put my laptop on the end of his piano and we basically just keep going until we make each other laugh or sing a song we both like.”

Often though, it’s the song title that comes first. One of her favorites came from a conversation about the relationship between Pam and Phil.

“We were brainstorming and Pippa suddenly said something like, ‘It would never be me without you.’ I told him to stop right there. I googled those words, and to our astonishment, we discovered that no one had ever written a song with that title.”

The score is much more heartfelt than you might imagine, he says.

Paul and Prue - the TV version

Paul and Prue – the TV version (Image: Channel 4/Love Productions)

“I think the expectation is for a silly pop musical. But there’s a real emotion there that doesn’t surprise me. I cry in almost every episode when I watch Bake Off on TV.”

There’s also the added layer of suspense.

“It has elements of an Agatha Christie story except instead of being a whodunit set in an isolated country house, it’s a whodunit set in an isolated tent in the countryside.

“Having said that, it’s not like X Factor where everyone wants to stay in the competition to win a recording contract. At Bake Off, no one wants to be sent home for the simple reason that they are having such a good time.”

They will not be the only ones. Precisely because he is known for his important, serious and dramatic roles (Valjean in Les Mis, the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running musical), 51-year-old John Owen-Jones was drawn to the musical Bake Off.

The TV version of Bake Off

The TV version of Bake Off (Image: Channel 4)

“I’m a happy, outgoing guy, so I thought it would be great to take advantage of that for once,” he tells me. “And I am delighted to say that it has turned out to be one of the best experiences of my professional life. To illustrate how people engage with the show, one of the characters in the musical, not the actor playing him, already has his own Twitter fan page.

“And, when multiple contestants are eliminated, you can hear an audible sigh from the audience.”

He has yet to meet Paul Hollywood face to face.

“We follow each other on Instagram, we’ve had a few small talks, and I have blue eyes just like him. But I have dyed my hair a silvery white for the role.

“However, I am not trying to be him, but rather evoking the essence of the man. What I have done is put all the ingredients in a bowl and I have made my own cake in the shape of Paul Hollywood. The icing on the cake is the reaction of the public”.

So has Paul given you any advice?

haydn gwynne

Haydn Gwynne is known for playing Alex Pates in Drop the Dead Donkey. (Image: Dave Benett/Getty)

“I don’t say, but I bake bread and my wife, Teresa, makes cakes.” Has she started handing out Hollywood handshakes? “To each and every one.”

Actress Haydn Gwynne, 66, above, is a relatively new addition to the production, joining the cast as Pam Lee for the transfer to London. “What appealed to me the most was that the program is run by Rachel Kavanaugh, who I met years ago at the RSC.”

It’s not a dramatic documentary, she says, but she will nonetheless be very recognizable as Prue Leith. “I am reading her memoirs right now and here is a woman you could never describe as a shrinking violet, because of the colorful clothes, the glasses and the jewelry. Her wardrobe will provide 98¾ percent of my character.”

I had never worked with John Owen-Jones. “But what a voice! I completely trust him to cover up any suspicious notes he touches.” She’s being self-deprecating, having sung her heart out as ballet mistress Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot’s show and appearing in The Threepenny Opera.

“Yes, but this is an ensemble piece. It’s warm and welcoming and funny, and that’s as true for the cast as I hope it is for the audience. I look forward to it very much.”

Scott Paige, 32, was in the middle of a UK tour of The Addams Family (he played Uncle Fester) when he was invited to audition for the role of Host Jim (opposite Zoe Birkett as Kim) in the musical Bake Off.

“I jumped in immediately. I’m a big fan of the TV show. It was a no-brainer.”

So will he be playing Matt Lucas manque? “I am a big guy, although he has now lost weight, with a bald head. So yeah, if you squint, you’ll get a hint from him. I’m going to invite Matt to come see the show in London.

“I like to think of it as a love letter to him. But then again, I like to think of the musical as a love letter to the TV show.”

A seasoned West End performer, Claire Moore, 63, has played, among many other things, Christine in Phantom of the Opera and Ellen in Miss Saigon.

“Bake Off seemed like an unlikely idea for a musical until I read the script, and then I immediately said yes.” She loved the two-week run at Cheltenham and is looking forward to the West End transfer.

So how does she explain her attractiveness? “Well, I think, like in the TV show, you invest in the characters. I play someone called Babs and I’m a typical East End Nana who bakes for her grandkids in her apartment.

“I have a big number towards the end of the show that reveals a plot twist that I obviously can’t share. Suffice to say, I’m wearing a terrible cagoule, so what could possibly go wrong?

“It’s a bit like that Susan Boyle moment when everyone pulled her mickey out until she opened up her lungs.”

Claire and her daughter, Anna, are big fans of the TV show. “We see him together in every series. I hope audiences feel the same about the theatrical version.

“Not political or innovative, just unapologetic escapism. And don’t we all need a little of that right now?

  • The Great British Bake Off Musical opens on February 25 at the Noel Coward Theatre. Visit bakingthemusical.com for more information



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