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INTERVIEW: Alexander S Bermange

Interview by Siobhan Brennan

Alexander S. Bermange is a composer and lyricist who has carved out a successful career in London’s West End and BBC Radio. Backstage Pass recently caught up with him to talk past, present and future.

You staged your first musical Nessie while still in school so it's clear that writing has been a big part of your life from a young age. Who were some of your musical influences growing up?

My parents have always been great music lovers and listened to a wide variety of genres, so there was always a lot of music around me when I was growing up. I particularly latched onto musical theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice being my earliest inspirations. But as I was also classically trained as a pianist and viola player, I was also gaining an appreciation of the work of the classical greats.

What's been your proudest moment as a writer so far?

I'm generally not one to feel pride, as I tend to always be looking for the next mountain to climb rather than basking in the pleasure of feeling I have ticked an achievement off my list. But particular milestones that spring immediately to mind would be, for example, having my first West End production, winning my first award, and getting to work with performers who I have dreamed of working with (see below!). But in all of these cases, and others, even when the realisation of the goal was looking likely, or even certain, I have always thought to myself, "I'll believe it when I see it", and have never "counted my chickens", and so that, if nothing else, would always keep potential feelings of pride at bay!

You're presently working on a recording of your musical, The Route To Happiness with Kerry Ellis, Ben Forster and Louise Dearman - how would you describe the storyline?

I'd describe it as following the interweaving and parallel experiences of those three present-day Londoners in pursuit of their respective dreams.

How did you decide on the vocalists for the recording?

We had a meeting in which we set out to agree on the three vocalists who we believed would best suit the material, whose voices we thought would go well together, and whose work we had previously loved. And fortunately our top three choices said yes!

If you could choose any singer, living or dead, to record one of your songs who would you choose and which song would you like them to perform and why?

I'm a big fan of the Muppets, so any or all of them would have to go at the top of my list! Even if there wasn't a number in my body of work deemed to be suitable, needless to say I'd be only too happy to create something especially for them!

You're currently touring the country with Murder On Air, how did you become involved with the show?

Six and a half years ago I had a call from producer Bill Kenwright's office, asking me if I would compose the music for the half a dozen songs in The Yellow Iris (one of the three plays presented under the umbrella of Murder on Air). The original music had long been lost (though the lyrics had survived) and the team had a specific idea of the type of compositions they wanted. Above all they were eager for them to be original, yet sound true to the period. Originally the show was just intended to have a two week run in Windsor. But it's been touring the country, on and off, with an impressive array of A-list stars, ever since.

As well as playing piano you also get to play the 'Foley artist' - can you tell us what that entails?

It involves creating all of the sound effects as they used to be done, which is great fun! Sometimes that simply involves reproducing a sound (like drawing a curtain, lighting a match, or scribbling something down), but frequently it entails doing something completely different in order to create a particular sound – which can involve anything from paper bags to old reel-to-reel tape to cabbages!

What can we expect next from you?

Well, Murder on Air is touring until the autumn, and I follow that – on 28th November – with a show at the Pheasantry. I have long written and performed comic songs for BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service (and for other purposes!), and have recently started performing such songs of mine live. After some successful performances at the St James Studio, I have devised a fresh show for the Pheasantry in which I, and some special guest leading West End artists, present an evening comprising both my newest and my best-loved comedic numbers.

Murder on Air runs from 9th-12th July at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow and tickets can be booked via their website. To find out more and his his upcoming  projects visit his website www.bermange.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @Bermange

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