Interview: Marcel Meyer talks about the new musical, History Girls, showcase season March 2021, Cape Town

History Girls- new South African musical –Bianca Flanders [book], Marcel Meyer [music and lyrics], director [Fred Abrahamse]. Showcase season: March 17-27, 2021 at The Galloway Theatre, Waterfront Theatre School, with students from the Waterfront Theatre School Tickets: Tixsa Info about the musical: Marcel Meyer

Marcel Meyer who has written music and lyrics for History Girls, talks about birthing a new South African musical, during the global pandemic of Covid and conjuring up a musical which resonates in relation to the strange time of lockdown but is not about lockdown.

TheCapeRobyn: How did History Girls – a musical come about? Its genesis?

Marcel Meyer: In the midst of hard lockdown Roland Perold invited me to submit 2-3 songs to form part of a song cycle of new South African musical theatre that he wanted to present in Durban when we finally came out of hard lockdown. The working title of the song cycle was Stories We’ll Tell Eventually. I wanted to write something that spoke of the lockdown experience without directly writing about lockdown. This made me think of famous historical characters who in their own way had been confined for a period of time, but unlike so many people who in 2020 were complaining about trivialities like not being able to buy liquor, what struck me about the historical characters I was looking at was their absolute resilience of spirit while they were going through far worse than most of us were in during lockdown. The first song I wrote was Song In The Attic for Anne Frank. Next came Two Princesses – because in 2020 the Queen was 94 years old and in lockdown in Windsor Castle, and from 1940-1945, during the height of World War II, she and her younger sister, Princess Margaret,  were also in lockdown – separated from their parents – in Windsor Castle. The third song I wrote was the One Thousand Paper Cranes about Sadako Sasaki.  Then it seemed to me here were the makings of a very interesting musical – so I started looking at other remarkable young women aged between 12 and 21 who in their own unique ways went on to shape world history. Because I truly believe our collective consciousness has shifted because of lockdown and a far greater awareness of moments like Black Lives Matter. I made a concerted effort to try and identify a very diverse series of narratives – the musical features narratives from five continents [Africa, Asia, North America, South America and Europe] and spans an historical spectrum from the 15th to the 20th century. I was also convinced that what the project needed was a female collaborator and so I asked Bianca Flanders to collaborate with me as the book writer of the musical. Her contribution has been invaluable. Because Jaco Griessel was going to be the musical director of the song cycle in Durban I approached him to come on board as arranger and musical director. His contribution has been invaluable. Fred and I then spoke to Paul Griffiths about the project and I played him a few of the songs and asked him if the Waterfront Theatre School would be keen to collaborate with us in developing a showcase of this work. Paul was very excited by this prospect and very generously made the space and his very talented students available to us.

TheCapeRobyn: How would you describe History Girls? A song-cycle musical?

Marcel Meyer: I guess the best way to describe History Girls is a “concept musical” where the musical is structured around a theme rather than a more traditional plot. In essence the musical is made up of a series of little mini-musicals focusing on the narratives of these incredible women. Certain sections are told entirely in song or sung through musical scenes, other sections are dramatized in spoken dialogue. Stephen Sondheim described his 1991 musical, Assassins as “a book musical masquerading as a revue.” This is also the perfect description for History Girls.

TheCapeRobyn: How many songs are there, all together in History Girls?

Marcel Meyer: Including the reprises there are 15 musical Numbers in the score.

TheCapeRobyn: This season of The History Girls is a “showcase”?

Marcel Meyer: In order to make a musical reach its full potential it needs to be extensively developed. Often in South Africa, new musicals go from a first draft straight to a full production. This can be very counter-productive. Almost all Broadway and West End musical go through an extensive development periods where the musical is shaped in front of an audiences – this is either done with out of town try-outs, which was the process during the Golden Age of the Broadway musical or as is now more common a series of readings and workshop/showcase productions. The point of a reading or a showcase is for the writers and creative to gauge the work in front of an audience, to get a sense what is working and what is not as a piece of writing, without the distraction and enormous costs that a full production would entail. So, a showcase, keeps staging and design elements to a minimum to focus the audience’s attention and the music, the lyrics, the dialogue, the characters and the themes. Only once a musical has gone through a series of these showcases and the creative team is certain that the piece really resonates with the audience, will they look at raising the funds to mount it as a full production.

❇ Review of History Girls, showcase season, March 2021, on TheCapeRobyn:

Creatives at interval [March 17, 2021], during the first performance of the showcase season of the new musical, History Girls at The Galloway Theatre, Waterfront Theatre School. From left, Marcel Meyer and Fred Abrahamse [Abrahamse-Meyer Productions] and Paul Griffiths from the Waterfront Theatre School. The production is being presented by Abrahamse & Meyer Productions, Tally Ho! Productions and The Waterfront Theatre School [WTS] and features students from the WTS.© TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

Featured image: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.