An article from Wayne Bryan, Producing Artistic Director, of Music Theatre of Wichita as they prepare to produce the American premiere of Betty Blue Eyes.
Betty Blue Eyes is a highly original and very funny new musical which opened on the West End in 2011, and is making its American debut this summer at Music Theatre of Wichita, July 24-28.
Set in 1947 England, when Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming royal wedding is to be the cause for nationwide celebratory banquets, a meat-deprived village wages internal subterfuge to abscond with a prize pig named Betty.
With a clever libretto by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, Betty Blue Eyes is based on the Maggie Smith and Michael Palin film, A Private Function, screenplay by Alan Bennett. The tuneful new score is by NAMT Festival alumni George Stiles (Honk! and The Three Musketeers, both Fest ’99) and Anthony Drewe (Honk!, Fest ‘99), whose other works include Just Soand the new material in the stage version of Mary Poppins.
After the 1999 Festival presentation of Honk!, several NAMT theatres expressed an interest in producing it, including Music Theatre of Wichita. Our transatlantic communications with authors George and Anthony quickly blossomed into an international friendship. This was solidified when MTWichita, with the writers’ blessings, produced and distributed the American Cast Album of Honk! in 2001.
George and Anthony, along with licensing house Music Theatre International, subsequently credited the well-received album as one of the show’s best marketing tools. Hundreds of Honk! productions followed the Festival presentation and the release of the
cast album, and the writers have stayed in touch with our theatre ever since. We produced Honk! again in 2012 and audiences loved it even more the second time.
When Cameron Mackintosh presented Betty Blue Eyes on the West End in 2011, it was met with very positive reviews. The London cast album bore vivid testimony to the show’s wit and melodic richness. But after the show closed in London, the title seemed to disappear from the news.
Last fall, when it seemed that our upcoming Music Theatre of Wichita season was starting to lean toward a British theme, I emailed Matt Boethin and Carol Edelson at MTI to ask if they’d heard anything about the show and if it might be coming into their catalogue. They promised to look into it and get back to me, which they did quite promptly.
The feeling from London was that the show’s very British themes might not resonate with American audiences.
“Did they want to find out?,” I asked. “Where could you ever find a more American audience than in Wichita, Kansas?!!”
“So do you want to do it?,” they asked. Yes we did. All right, then. They’d inquire. And in blessedly short order, Cameron Mackintosh okayed it.
The authors wrote immediately, very excited that Wichita was going to meet Betty.
Music Theatre of Wichita runs each production for only one week in our 2100 seat theatre. We believe our audience’s affection for Honk!will ensure quite enough interest to fill our auditorium for our short run.
We also believe our audiences will respond enthusiastically to the comic invention of this fantasy-laced farce. All the hard-scrabble characters in the story foster lavish fantasies about how their lives might be different, and each fantasy is the basis of a terrific musical sequence. The songs in the show are just as tuneful and clever as the songs our patrons loved in Honk!.
Beyond that, the librettists and songwriters have deepened the somewhat cynical tone of the original film by focusing on how two people trapped in a disappointing marriage find their relationship re-energized and strengthened during the course of their unique “pig-napping” adventure.
To get a good feel for the humor and magic of this unique show, go to YouTube and type in “Betty Blue Eyes Theatrical Trailer HD,” and you’ll see a few terrific highlights from the original London production.
We invite anyone who is intrigued to please visit us in Wichita, Kansas this summer and experience the show for yourself.
The beautiful new sets are being designed by Robert A. Kovach (a familiar face at many NAMT theatres). All the sets, props (including two life-sized pig puppets) and costumes (by Dixon Reynolds) will be ready to welcome a possible future life at other NAMT theatres.
I’m directing the show, partnering with an inventive young choreographic team, Lyndy Franklin Smith and Jeromy Smith. Our leading players are Tracy Lore, Stanley Bahorek, Mary Stout and Justin Robertson. They will lead a large, hugely talented group of performers.
Just let us know you want to come and we’ll be delighted to show you all the Midwestern hospitality you can stand!
For more information on Betty Blue Eyes, please visit www.mtwichita.org.