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Book, music and lyrics by Noel Coward Restored by Just-the-Ticket Theatre Company Stewart Nicholls discHsses his production at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking The aim of Just-the-Ticket Theatre Company is to res tore and revive "lost" British musicals. Following past restorations of LOVE ON THE DOLE and POPKISS', SAIL AWAY was the 1998 production. Preparing a "lost" musical is a long and arduous task and very time consuming. We were granted special permission from the Noel Coward estate to produce the show and received one script but no score or orchestrations. Although SAIL AWAY ran on Broadway and subsequently had productions in London and Australia, we had to start from scra tch in tracking down lost manuscripts of score and script before we wer able to assemble material in order to comm ence rehearsals.

director / choreographer worked with some members of the company, other groups worked with the assistant director and / or assistant choreographer. The intensive week started on a Saturday and the first run-through rehearsal was on the Thursda v. Two orches tra calls took place o!' the following weekend while thr stage management had the th eatre ge t-in on the Sunday. Monda y sa v足 the technical rehearsal, Tuesday thl; dress rehearsal and then we had five performances.

SCORE lit MUSICIANS :"' . ..-~~-~

PLOT Tl1e action takes place on board the 55 Coronia cruising from New York to varioLls countries in Europe. The year is 1961. The storyline revolves around a group of Am erican tourists "doing" Europe. They are led by a wise-cracking American tour hostess, Mimi Paragon 足 originally pla yed by Elaine Stritch. Johnny Van Mier, a first cla ss passenger, falls in love with Mimi 足 much to the di sg ust of his overprotective mother. Mimi is not allowed to fraternis e with th e passengers and also feels that Johnny is too young for her. Throughout th e cruise their relationship is "on and off" but when the ship finally docks in New York, they disembark together. There are many subplots amongst the other passengers (hysterical characters that only Coward could have created'). The show has a revue style abo u tit and there are countless show-stopping numbers and routines, not to mention typically witty Coward dialogue.



J ust-the-Ticket does not have a memb ers hip but holds open auditions for each production. Each audition, which lasted two hours, included a dance session, a sight reading from script and prepared songs chos en by the auditionees. On the whole, people fell obviously into roles and we then spent the following two month s ca refull y casting the remaining roles until we were


satisfied that we had the best cas t we could possibly find . Altogether we auditioned around 60 adults and 40 children. The pivotal role of Mimi has to be played by a strong "all rounder" with the ability to belt prod uction numbers as well as do justice to the beau tiful ballads. We were fortunate to have the services of a professional actress for the part. SAIL AWAY requires four main principals, a host of cameo roles who are specific "types", 12 male stewards, some female passengers and seven children. Altogether a cast of 41! Although there is much chorus work, everyone has a distinct cha racter and it is very much an ensemble show. Some of the characters may have only one line but they are such memora ble personalities that nobody had any complaints about having little actually to say!

We cast the show at Easter and had

a read-through in early June. In mid-July we had three music rehearsals, followed by an all-day blocking rehearsal. We then had an eight-day intensive rehearsal period, run like a military exercise with every moment carefully planned. While the

There was no vocal score and orcl;estrations of the original production had been los t and therefore we had to reconstruct them. The music given to us was in early manuscript form . Some was printed sheet music that wou ld have been originally sold in the theatre and in song books . Although we had the basic tunes, they were in the wrong keys and not arranged as needed for the musical. We did have the original cas t albums which gave us a fair idea of how Coward and the orchestrators intended the show to sound , but the dance breaks , incidental music, overture and reprises, as well as a whole voca l and piano score, had to be created afresh. Joan Hirst, Coward's secretary, fortunately found the most important missing piece in a ca rdboard box in her attic - The Italian Wedding Ballet' Our orches tra tors scored the complete show for five violins, 'cello, double bass, four woodwinds, two trumpets, trombone, tuba , guitar/mandolin, piano, drums and percussion; a total of 19 players.

SCENERY Producing a "lost" musical can often pose problems when hiring a



set. Fortunately we were able to hiTe an ANYT HING GOES set. As it was a permanent set, the scenes not set on the ship posed a problem. We were able to adapt as necessary and only the Italian Wedding Ballet would have worked slightly better if it had had a complete box set of an Italian village. PRO~~


There were over 200 props which meant meticulous conrrol backstage with many marked-up props tables. There were only a few awkward props to find: a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a Boson's whistle, a hookah, lots of suitcases, a genuine Italian phrase book (for the famous song "Useless, Useful Phrases") and quite a few tacky European so uvenirs - which people didn't always want to admit to owning '

The lighting needed to reflect the change from cold New York to the waTmer climates of Europe. We had to create lighting to depict late nights on board the liner 足 sometimes difficult in that we still needed enough light to see the action over the full stage. Use of dark blues helped to create this impression. Two busy follow spots


were used throughout the show, mainly during the musical numbers.



As there is no orchestr(l pit in the Rhoda McGaw Theatre, the orchestra were positioned at the back of the stage underneath the ship's bridge' This resulted in a communication problem between the singers and the conductor which we overcame with the use of radio mikes which fed directly into the conductor's ea rpiece. Too often radio mikes arc lIsed for u!U1ecessary amplification. In this production they were used only for the conductor and every line of dialogue and lyric could be heard throughout the production.

COSTUMES-; --.~.'--

I 'I


There were many costumes and nearly every cast member had three costumes that were constantly being changed throughout the show. Most of these were obtainable from many and varied sources and this was another time consuming exercise. The period and characters allowed for striking colours and styles. The 12 stewards' jackets were not easy to find but fortunately P & 0 Cruises lent LIS the genuine jackets, although we had to buy 12 pairs of

matching black trousers to create a well-groomed look!

We were able to create some comic hair styles which added to the period, as did the genuine make-up deSigns. Only one wig was used 足 for a chMacter that needed a head of "orange hair"!

They say you should never work with either - well we had both' The only problem was discovering that the dogs we had booked did not get on with each other! After some quick recasting we used three dogs for the final few run-throughs. Needless to say, they stole the show. There were many legalities to be follow ed in order to use eight under 16-yea r-old children including the provision of a separate dreSSing room and the licensing of three "matrons" who were responsible for the children at all times.



writing, a tot a l ensemble show headed up by a great Jeading female role but with plenty of opportunities for everyone to shine. The music and script have stood the test of time and it is ripe for any amateur group in the country. We had visitors from many companies who expressed interest in the musical. Hopefully the show will be made available for performance some time in 1999. (Photos by Tony Charters)


Any doubts about the piece were dispelled as it played very well and audiences were very enthusiastic. This was particularly pleasing since it hadn't been performed for 35 years. We had full houses. SAIL AWAY is a good piece of quality

TEL: 0171-837-5655 FAX: 0171-833-0609


Sail Away - December 1998  

Stewart Nicholls discusses his production of Noel Coward's Sail Away restored by Just The Ticket Theatre Company

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