“How can you have a typical storyline set in 54 seconds in a lift?”
New British musicals are a rare thing at the moment and ever rarer is a successful one, which is why it is so exciting to hear that Lift is selling out the intimate Soho Theatre. The characters are identifiable and the songs are fresh and quirky. Critics may protest that the audience are not given enough of a storyline, but if there is one thing the show oozes, it is a love for musical theatre. Talking to the composer, Craig Adams, really highlights his love not just for productions, but also for the audiences.
The show faced mixed reviews, with high praise given for the cast but often a slight reservation that the story is not clear enough, but audiences have embraced the show in its entirety. “They have been really brilliant, they’ve been the saving grace,” said Adams, who admitted he has decided to never read another review. “The audiences that are coming to watch it are the audiences who are hungry to listen. In this you have got to listen to the lyrics and if you don’t you miss so much. That’s what I want to do in musical theatre. I want to challenge audiences, rather than just write the next hummable melody.”
As fans will know, Lift has been in production for a long time, with Perfect Pitch funding workshops five years ago and a concept album released last year, but its origins date back to Adams’ time training at Mountview. He describes being “obsessed with inanimate objects” and the fascination he has with setting a show in one space. “A few of us got together and said ‘let’s write a musical’ and we decided to write this show set in a lift. It’s about the life it sees everyday, I suppose. It witnesses so many things: arguments, meetings and so much stuff. It was born from the idea at Mountview and took off from there.”
The current production is running at the Soho Theatre and it’s the location Adams has always hoped for. “It was the only theatre I wanted this show to come to,” he said. “It feels central, it doesn’t feel fringe – although it is – and it’s got a great space. The space fits the show perfectly. It’s open, a bit like a black box and I couldn’t have seen it anywhere else so I’m so, so glad we got it here; it was the perfect place for it.”
When he talks about the ticket sales for Lift and the show selling out, his pride in the production is evident, but he fears it would not suit the majority of the mainstream theatre audience. “I think the younger generation are desperate for new British musicals,” he said. “But the main audience, they’re not there yet. You have to have a smash hit. Wicked was a smash hit because it was about a popular story. Stephen Swartz hasn’t had a massive hit other than Wicked. Maybe audiences will change. I hope they do, because if they don’t I haven’t got a career,” Adams said, trying to laugh off the serious issue behind the flippant comment. But things could be more hopeful overseas. Adams thinks the Broadway audiences understand new writing better than the West End theatregoers and the show could be heading there, with producers in New York and Chicago interested in staging it.
Craig Adams is working on an adaptation of Therese Raquin, a French novel by Émile Zola, which he hopes to showcase in the summer; a new musical currently being read by producers after workshops with Perfect Pitch and has been commissioned to turn Terry Pratchett novel Soul Music into a musical for Youth Music Theatre this summer. “There’s loads of things going on,” he laughs. “I should get my head down really and get to work.”
Lift runs at the Soho Theatre until February 24. It stars Julie Atherton (Avenue Q), Nikki Davis-Jones (Wicked), Cynthia Erivo, Jonny Fines, Luke Kempner, Ellie Kirk, George Maguire and Robbie Towns. Tickets are available here from £12.