Previewed 11 May 2005, Opened 23 May 2005, Closed 1 October 2005 at the Apollo Theatre London
The new musical The Big Life in London is a feel-good ska musical which transports the plot of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost to 1950's London.
On the Windrush over from the Caribbean to England, a pact is made by a group of men not to get involved with women for three years while they work to better themselves... but Cupid has another plan! "We comin big time we comin, Kyan wait to get to inglan, Wi mek it big in a inglan, Mek it rich and be a hot boy, Mek it all de way...
The Big Life promises a funny, sad, uplifting, joyous, rip-roaring, toe-tapping and tear-jerking white-knuckle-ride. An emotional roller-coaster that sweeps you back to the time when Caribbean migrants came to London in the hope of carving out a better life for themselves.
The cast for The Big Life includes Geoff Aymer, Claudia Cadette, Tameka Empson, Amanda Horlock, Antonia Kemi-Coker, Jason Pennycooke, Marcus Powell, Neil Reidman, Yvette Rochester-Duncan, Victor Romero-Evans, Chriss Tummings and Yaa. Written by Paul Sirett with music by Paul Joseph. It is directed by Clint Dyer with choreography by Jason Pennycooke, designs by Jenny Tiramani, lighting by Gerry Jekinson and sound by Gareth Owen. This production transfers to London's West End following two sell-out seasons at The Stratford East Theatre.
"This exhilarating new musical follows a group of men and women as they arrive in Britain on board the Empire Windrush and build new lives in London. In its witty battle-of-the-sexes stand-offs and its evocation of the immigrant experience. The Big Life sometimes recalls West Side Story - and it shares that show's blend of dramatic impact and exuberance. The Big Life is a show with a huge heart!" The Times
"At the end of The Big Life the audience stood up and cheered: as they have done on every one of the three occasion I've seen this musical. With its catchy songs and charming cast, if you don't come out of it smiling, you need therapy, not theatre... It's not a flash production - settings are hinted at, rather than reproduced - but its enthusiasm sweeps you along... There are some killer individual voices but it's the ensemble singing that raises the hairs on your neck... This charismatic musical is a good time in a smart package, a joyful night out with just enough grit to make you think as well as smile." The Sunday Telegraph
"This big, blazing, ebullient show blows into the West End from Stratford East like a benevolent tornado... An incident of racism is inserted, as if Sirett thought people shouldn't forget it, but it doesn't fit the show, which is about warm-hearted immigrants sorting themselves out in a very odd country. Never mind. The show has heart, guts, infectious humour and a wonderful cast of actor-singer-dancers who simply raise the roof." The Sunday Times
"If ever London needed an infectious feel-good musical like this, it's now. Paul Sirett and Paul Joseph's 'ska musical' about West Indian immigrants arriving here in the late 1940s sets your feet tapping and your heart singing and makes the sun break through again. The sheer exuberance of a dozen-strong cast and an on-stage, white-suited band of just half that number gives The Big Life such an adrenalin boost that it's a wonder it doesn't burst out on to Shaftesbury Avenue and take over the street. Those early immigrants found themselves in a country where the people spoke funny - from apples-and-pears rhyming slang to very lah-di-dah - and where some windows displayed signs that read, 'No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.' The resilience with which they found work and somewhere to live and tried to integrate into the community is perfectly captured in director Clint Dyer's warm-hearted production. The plot is based loosely on Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost - a group of male friends vow to abstain from hard drink and soft women while bettering themselves, only to find girls too hard to resist. The songs and dancing fizz and Tameka Empson, who as the Jamaican Mrs Aphrodite links the show from a seat in a stage-side box, is a hoot - a brilliant stand-up comic who just happens to be sitting down. There's no heavy message - it's a celebration rather than a history lesson. So go celebrate." The Sun
"In the spiritual that starts the piece, the West Indian immigrants sway on the deck of the SS Windrush, sing of their hopes and dreams of finding the good life in England in the late Forties, and wonder vaguely if white people have white Christmases. Four earnest men are determined to let nothing stand between them and success, so, in a plot shamelessly and wittily lifted from Shakespeare's romantic comedy Love's Labour's Lost, they swear to give up wine and women for three years. Some chance, when these guys kill time in Piccadilly Circus beneath the statue of Eros, a Puckish mischief-maker whose arrows hit the bull's-eye every time. While the story doesn't eliminate the negative - the prejudice, the unemployment, the awful jobs - this high-octane, feelgood piece accentuates the positive and sings and dances about it, celebrating the vibe these people brought to Britain. Backed by a heavenly orchestra who wear white suits and wings and make all the right noises, the joint really jumps. Meanwhile, from a box in the circle, sit-down Caribbean comedian Mrs Aphrodite dispenses smut and snobbery to the poor little people from the 'small islands'. Move over, Dame Edna." The Mail on Sunday
The Big Life was created at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, which is in Newham in the East End of London, where the boarding house which features in the show is situated. After four and a half years of development including two workshops and two full productions of the show at the Theatre Royal, it has highly appropriately come to the Apollo Theatre which is in sight of another scene-setting in the show, Piccadilly Circus.
Some eight years ago the Theatre Royal began its Musical Theatre Workshop Development Project which, with the vital help of annual visits from two lecturers from the Tisch School in New York, Fred Carl and Robed Lee, has brought many new talents into the theatre. The Big Life would not have found its particular combination of collaborators it Stratford East had not initiated its new musicals project. Playwright Paul Sirett had had four plays staged at the Theatre Royal Stratford East before he came up with the idea for The Big Life, but the composer Paul Joseph had never even seen a musical, let alone written one, when he joined the Theatre Royal's first Musical Theatre Workshop in 1998. The West End production of The Big Life has been championed by the West End's most prolific producer, Bill Kenwright. The Big Life seems to have found its natural second home in Westminster, where it proudly claims to be the first musical in the West End set in a British black community.
The Big Life in London at the Apollo Theatre previewed from 11 May 2005, opened on 23 May 2005 and closed on 1 October 2005.