Hampstead playwright’s Musical Of The Year lampoons The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Stephen Lanigan-O'Keeffe

Stephen Lanigan-O'Keeffe - Credit: Archant

Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe tells Bridget Galton about his musical about musicals based on a Victor Hugo classic.

Musical theatre is affectionately parodied in a new show at St Stephen’s Church.

Musical of the Year follows the unfortunate 60-year career of Rudy Brown as he tries to scoop Broadway’s coveted award for best musical by re-writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in the style of the previous year’s winner.

“It’s a merry romp through Victor Hugo’s story, the opening chapter at the Feast of Fools is just like I’m Getting Married in the Morning from My Fair Lady, later the scene where Quasi Modo seizes Esmerelda is like the rumble in West Side Story and as they raid the cathedral there’s a tap number like 42nd Street,” says its writer Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe, head of music at both UCS in Hampstead and St Mary’s Catholic Church in Holly Place.

“Between each of these scenes is the struggle of the writer and of his wife Lizzy to put up with him. He’s so entrenched in getting this award that he doesn’t notice his children growing up.”

Lanigan-O’Keeffe studied composition and music in his native Australia, earned his stripes in the chorus of professional shows and has been musical director of both professional and amateur shows.

He says the bittersweet aspect of Rudy’s story is that like many musical theatre writers, he’s a frustrated avant-garde composer.

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“He feels there’s no money in it so he has to write for musical theatre and suppresses his experimental music. Later on his son gets his original avant-garde opera produced and he finally wins an award.

“The moral of the story is as soon as you copy you are out of date so stay true to yourself.”

As a huge musical theatre fan (Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and Gypsy are his faves) O’Keeffe’s work is an affectionate dig at poor examples of the form.

His own first effort was, not coincidentally, a show based on Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris. A few years ago, his commedia dell’arte musical Scaramouche played at Hoxton Hall.

“The form really flowered from the 1940s to the 60s when you had that classic structure of introducing the audience to a world that’s familiar but slightly unfamiliar, with music that evokes the time and the place but also sounds new. When the drama and emotion get to a point where speaking is no longer enough, you have a song.”

Although he has “several ideas for musicals up my sleeve” he’s having lots of fun with these musical spoofs.

“It’s the most fun but the hardest work. I’ve had to listen to the whole oeuvre of each composer and the things they were trying to evoke so I can put all that together. It’s a serious business parody.”

Musical of the Years runs April 8-11 at St Stephen’s Hampstead. Tickets from ticketsource.co.uk/musicaloftheyear