Vile Bodies could not survive without music. Luckily we have the incredible Henry Hart on board as our music director, who has great experience in the field of jazz, performance and a cappella. Accomplished in all the fields imaginable for the role, I can just sense that it’s going to be something sensationally musically.
And in a way, it sort of has to be. When I think of the 1930s I think of music. I think of the birth of jazz, of sweeping movie scores, the first on-screen musicals as the talkies arrived in the late 20s… To me the 30s is the era the world received a soundtrack. So our show must have one too.
In the script only three songs are defined; ‘Sing Sing Sing’ by Benny Goodman, ‘Nina’ by Noel Coward, and ‘We’ll Meet Again’ by Vera Lynn. ‘Sing Sing Sing to me’- partially due to the film and partially due to my love of jazz beforehand anyway- is the ultimate opening number. The stage comes alive and animalistic jazz-birds flit about the stage, tigers prowl, champagne is swilled by beasts of the night, and vile acts are performed through the haze of cigarette smoke. It is a risky one; to create such a big, epic opening scene can make much of the show seem sparse and weak in comparison as the play is far more intimate than the opening suggests, but that juxtaposition is crucial to the play itself; to show what happens behind the ‘glister of your parties and the saucy blades of your jewels’, to quote Melrose Ape.
But whilst writing the play, whilst building it in my mind, whilst auditioning, and whilst researching, a base of songs have begun to appear. Whilst we used some modern music in the recalls we provided most of it with a jazz score over the top of classic numbers from the era. We also tried moving to ‘Moonlight Serenade’, which some people took as a lazy morning rolling in bed, some people saw as a call to the stage for a dance, and some saw as an empty dance for one when you wished there was another with you, and broke into tears. Moments like this, which flitted dangerously near the plot, make one realise the power music has on the scene.
Whilst Henry’s actual scoring will come in when scene mood and feel have been worked on, music will play a critical part in the character development process and in the building of scenes. I’m currently on the hunt for 1930s film soundtracks to provide mood music for the piece, but classical music does the job often (after all, Brief Encounter was entirely scored with a single piece of Rachmaninov.)
My film scoring knowledge gets thinner as we go further back, ending with a clump of Bernard Hermann in the 50s. So the 30s is a really interesting era as I know the sound and the songs, but I don’t know the minds behind it.
As we work on the show music will continue to crop up with time. But with such a rich era, and such a musically talented cast, it’s going to be nothing short of thrilling to see where we end up going.