Saturday, 9 May 2009

How I would fix "The Boys in the Photograph"

Not that anyone is asking me to.

FYI: "The Boys in the Photograph" is an Andrew Lloyd Webber/Ben Elton Musical, a re-working of 2001(?)'s "The Beautiful Game", which is currently premiering, oddly enough, if Winnipeg. At MTC. Not a bad show, but not flawless.

Act I starts in 1969 at a Catholic boy's school and follows the football (soccer) team from the day of their team photo to the day of the big championship game, all at the beginning, sort of, of the Troubles. Act II starts a couple years later with the wedding of the lead characters and, well, later.

Among the changes made in adapting the show to a post-Occupation audience was a more uplifting ending and a couple more songs. The problems, as I see them, are that the uplifting ending is sort of tacked on, and act II features, towards the end, a couple of long preachy speeches and a long stop-the-show-dead preachy song, all by the same character. Not only is this poor character saddled with these speeches and this song, but for at least one of these speeches and the song, she's all alone on stage. Also, there's no applause break between the John-goes-to-jail song and the visiting day scene, and there needs to be.

Okay, so, here's how I'd fix it.

1) The John goes to jail song will end with John getting seriously brutalized. This will ratchet up the tension between John and the eventual 'choices' he makes and will make the cold, 'I'm a soldier now' John later more resonant.

2) This means we can feature the very pregnant Mary and her almost-due baby with an observation about how much he seems to be healing up from his wounds, as an important moment in John's transition(s).

3) Move Mary's "John Kelly, killed by John Kelly" schene to earlier in the day. John should go straight home after being released. This makes the refusal to see the son and the "I'm a soldier now" moment more devastating. It also makes the 'remember who you were' issue something that happens over the rest of the act and not something that happens with John alone and silent on the docks.

4) Move the confrontation with Thomas to after the above scene. Thomas's revelation about motives and goals should come as something of a shock to John, and be part of the rediscovering of dead-and-gone footballer John.

5) Thomas's "it will never end" song and Mary's "if that's what we're fighting for" song should be reworked somehow to emphasize the parallelism of the dilemma--the impossibility of peace, the passing-the-hatred/hopelessness-to-the-next-generation. Either rework both songs (and give Mary someone to sing to, for heaven's sake--Bernie and the baby are right in the next room, after all), and maybe make it a duet--Mary on one side, Thomas/John on the other, big song, and ending with John's "big" choice. (Well, there's the choice to leave the family, and then the choice on the docks, but this one is the important one of the three.)

6) I'm not sure John needs a song on the docks, but I'd like to see him and Mary, in parallel, contemplating the 'boys in the photograph'. In the end, John shouldn't 'remember who he was' but should ask, no beg Mary to 'help him remember who he was'.

Okay, that's it. Somebody send this to Sir Andrew.