The year is 1984. Sitting on your desk is a personal computer. Your neighbour is beautiful but you don’t know how to talk to her. So naturally, you get your computer to do it for you.
Electric Dreams, the 1984 science fiction-cum-romance comedy film follows Miles Hardings’ struggle with this exact predicament, and the hilarious twists that ensue. A modern take on the French play Cyrano de Bergerac, the film is a fabulous glimpse into 80s culture and the predicted outcome of technology, with some thrillingly twisted love triangles thrown in for good measure.
Drew Lane, a well established Melbourne-based writer and composer, has recently adapted the film into a full-length musical which is making its debut later in the month for a staged reading. Working with a stellar cast, Drew and director Peter Fitzpatrick, have transported Miles’ world onto the stage, updating and rebooting the program to be a bit more… relevant in the smart-era, whilst still maintaining its 80s flair. I had a chat with Drew on his writing process, as well as leading lady Madeleine Featherby on her experience in a new musical workshop.
Tell me a bit about your relationship with musicals!
Drew: I’ve been writing musicals since I was 15, and have been really lucky to have some of them performed around the traps, both here and overseas. Highlights for me include Marking Life being presented for Stephen Schwartz at the Festival of Broadway in 2010, Somewhere To Fight For winning an Australia Day award in 2012, Final Words being professionally performed in the US in 2015, and now Electric Dreams: The Musical getting its first public showing. Writing musicals is something I stumbled into as a teenager – merging my love of story writing with song writing. And over the years, it’s become an absolute passion. Musicals are this beautiful combination of music, theatre, storytelling, dance, lights, sound, set – the whole box and dice! It’s limitless, only bound by your imagination. Some of the best music has been borne out of musicals! I also love the inclusive nature of theatre itself. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve come from, or why you’re there, it’s such a supportive environment. I grew up in country Victoria, so to discover such a wonderful community in my hometown really did open my teenage world up to its amazing possibilities.
Madeleine: I’ve performed since the age of 8 when I did my first show; a street urchin in a local production of Les Miserables. Ever since then I was bitten by the performance bug! I absolutely love the feeling of creating something unique and sharing that with an audience. I performed in numerous local and high school productions throughout my primary and high school years. Then, I began to work professionally in Melbourne, and even performed in a couple of shows Off-Broadway in New York City – a highlight of my career. Most recently, however, I played the role of Helen of Troy in Music Theatre Melbourne’s Paris: A Rock Odyssey. That was also a career highlight as I was fortunate enough to work with amazing talent such as John Waters, Ben Mingay, Kerrie Anne-Greenland and many more. I believe this is my first workshop. To be honest, it’s hard to keep track after performing in so many shows throughout my lifetime. As I previously mentioned, creating something unique and sharing that with an audience is such a special experience and working on a completely new show that has never been seen is an incredible way to do that.
Why did you choose Electric Dreams as the basis for your show?
Drew: In 2010, I was writing a completely different show about internet relationships that I couldn’t get to work. I had written 10 songs or so, but something wasn’t quite right. I started thinking about computers and relationships, and remembered a great little movie from my childhood – “Electric Dreams”. I managed to hunt down a copy of it (it’s hard to find!), and realised that it would make a great musical. There’s some terrific 80s music in it, and the hit song “Together In Electric Dreams” is a standout, so it just seemed to make sense that it could work as an original musical. I managed to get in touch with the original writer, creator and co-producer, Rusty Lemorande, and he was extremely supportive of the idea. I even auditioned by writing a song called “It’s Inside Of You” from a scene in the movie! His encouragement throughout the process kept me working towards completing the show. It’s also a great story with themes that resonate in everyone: self-discovery, love, fighting for what you believe in, how music can touch people, standing up for yourself, overcoming challenges, and forgiveness. People empathise with both Miles and Madeline’s journeys, but they also see a little of themselves in Edgar (the computer), and how he grows to understand the complexities of being human.
What tips would you give to writers / composers hoping to create a new musical?
Drew: Begin! Just get started. Take an idea – life is full of them, and begin to explore where it could go. Some of the best musicals are based around a simple “What if…?” question. That’s where a lot of my ideas come from. Of course, there’s times when the idea doesn’t have enough legs to go the distance, but often you can have two or three smaller ideas, and suddenly you’ve got a storyline with lots of possibilities. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ necessarily – sure, there’s certain standards you can follow, but you’re not limited to them. You want to create a musical? Go for it! You’ll learn heaps in the journey, and you never know where it’ll take you. The other tip is to tell your story and write about what interests you. Write from experience and write what you know. Our personal individual stories all come from a unique perspective and experience. In every musical I’ve written, there are elements of me, people I’ve met, my own life stories and those of others. When you write truth into your shows, it helps make everything that’s happening on stage resonate more with the audience.
How has the workshop process been so far?
Madeleine: The process has been great! The cast is wonderful – everyone has taken ownership of their roles and are ‘putting their own stamp’ on their characters. Drew Lane (the show’s creator and our MD) is so fantastic to work with. He is so fun and generous, not to mention incredibly talented! I’m pretty much obsessed with the music from the show! It’s so catchy and I find myself singing the songs all the time (especially when I wake up at 3am)! I’m lucky enough to have worked with Peter Fitzpatrick (our director) a few times before and I love working with him. Again, he is a very generous person who allows you the freedom and security to make bold choices, and take risks. He is very clever in what he is able to create – he is great at thinking outside the box.
What are the biggest differences in writing and/or rehearsing a new work rather than a well-established show?
Drew: Keeping respectful to the original source material while also making it unique for the stage. Early on, there was a temptation to just “musicalise” the original script, but as I worked on it, it became clear that the show needed to be an entity to itself. The best advice I was given was to write the show I would want to see on stage. That made the vision for the musical very clear. And I am fortunate too that Rusty Lemorande, has been very supportive of the process. The original film has a beautiful naivety, goofiness and innocence about it, and I felt it was important to keep those. The other aspect was to try and make the piece not so filmic in nature, less episodic. In film you can cut away, blackout, crossfade, and shift locales instantly. It’s not that easy to do on stage, so I had to figure out what scenes I could combine and how I could use stage elements to make transitions between scenes smooth.
Madeleine: First of all, learning the music can be a lot more difficult because there is no point of reference. You can’t just YouTube the musical and listen to it on repeat, and they’re not tunes you have necessarily heard a hundred times before. We were really lucky however, because Drew had previously recorded demos of all of the songs (with many of the roles sung by himself, which was interesting and hilarious when trying to differentiate which role was singing what in the ‘love duets’). But as I said, he’s incredibly generous so he has gone out of his way to make the process as simple and helpful as possible. Also, being able to create a character (to a certain degree) from scratch is a big difference. These particular characters are based on the ones from the movie, but there is still a very large element of ownership and creativity that you can add. It’s quite a big responsibility, really.
The film is very 80s – has this been maintained or modernised?
Drew: I’m totally staying with the 80s! I love the 80s – the fashion, the innocence, and of course, the music. The funny thing is that the themes and story actually mirror a lot of what we accept as normal today – the idea of a computer running our household, talking to AI and it responding, and using technology to overcome our inhibitions. It was like the original film predicted 30 years ago what we are living now. However, I didn’t want the show to be an 80s musical that parodied the era, but rather use the 80s as a timeframe. So certainly, the music and arrangements are very 80s sounding, but the show is more of a love-song to the era and genre. We’re not making fun of the 80s, but we certainly have a ‘wink and a nudge’ about what’s happening. There’s also a huge cult following and love of the original film, so I wanted to make sure I respected that too. I hope that people who love the film will embrace the musical as well!
What is going to set Electric Dreams: The Musical apart from other shows?
Madeleine: THE MUSIC IS AMAZING! It’s is so fun, upbeat and catchy. It’s in the vein of 80s pop rock – think synths, electric guitars, great beats, it’s all there! Even though you’ve never heard the music, it’s so easy to get into the melodies and rhythms. Second to that, it’s just a really great, fun show. The story is entertaining and humorous with moments of love, rivalry and friendship. Interestingly, even though the movie was written in the 80s, it almost foresees the future in the way that it’s very accurate and relatable to our lives today. You’ll have to see it to know what I mean!
Drew: It’s all about being happy. I want everyone who sees it or hears it to leave with a big smile on their face. I love how “The Greatest Showman” does that too. The world is so full of harsh realities at the moment that I feel like we need to escape for a little while. Theatre was always about escaping and I hope that Electric Dreams: The Musical allows the audience to do that and enjoy a slice of happiness. Also, I certainly hope that the music helps set it apart too: it’s catchy (just ask the cast!), gets stuck in your head, and you can sing along after just a listen or two. With some 20 original songs, I hope that some of them might make their way into auditions in the future!
Electric Dreams: The Musical premieres at the MC Showroom, Prahran, on August 31st for a strictly limited season of 2 performances only. Tickets are on sale now. For more information, visit www.electricdreamsthemusical.com