Fringe Box



Alex Parker Talks Sondheim, Guildford, and ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’.

Published on: 17 Aug, 2012
Updated on: 20 Aug, 2012

Alex Parker

By Megan Scott

Guildford born Alex Parker has returned to his home town this week with his production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The show will open at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre next Wednesday. During rehearsals, I caught up with Alex for a little insight…

Alex Parker is a name you should remember. He seems to be going places but he is not intending to forget his Guildford roots. His company has put on several productions here, including Passion, Marguerite, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and A Little Night Music.

Three of those musicals were written by Stephen Sondheim, and How to Succeed also has American writers and is set in New York, so I asked Alex if he is drawn to American writing. He said that it was unintentional but he was intrigued by the idea and enthusiastically spoke of American show business.

“One of the things I enjoy is the spectacle, high energy and high production values associated with Broadway  shows. In many ways I believe that America has defined what makes a good musical in the modern era.”

Although not admitting to an American fixation, Alex definitely finds it hard to resist Sondheim.

“I’ve done four Sondheim musicals so far. He is undoubtedly my favourite composer.  What intrigues me about his work is that there is sufficient depth within the writing to allow a variety of valid interpretations. I mean, Grease is done in broadly the same way every time whereas Sondheim brings an intelligence to his musicals which initially can make them seem less accessible but in my view eventually leads to a richer enjoyment.”

Currently the company are working hard on How to Succeed, which is not a Sondheim but Alex revealed that there’s still been room for a bit of flexibility within the show’s approach.

“Joe has set it within the 60’s in more of a Sin City style.

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever done. It’s massive. There’s lots of dancing , and it’s big and colourful with songs that the audience will come out of the theatre humming.  I hope people will be drawn to it as it has the same writer as Guys and Dolls, and with the same easy charm, humour  and accessibility associated with that musical.”

But despite the extra hardship, Alex seems confident and eager to handle a challenge.

“It’s going well. It’s a challenge to do something so different from Sondheim.  This is new and exciting to us and we know that the material is brilliant. All we have to do now is work!”

Away from the Guildford theatre scene, Alex is also working on a new Stiles and Drewe show in London as Associate MD.  In October he is producing and musically directing a new professional production of the musical Marguerite at a London fringe theatre. This has a new script especially written by its author Alain Boublil (who co wrote Les Miserables) and is being directed by the West End’s Guy Unsworth.  With such determination and passion, it is unsurprising that Alex is venturing out of Guildford, but I asked him whether he saw himself and his company staying connected with the town.

“There’s always going to be a connection with Guildford. I believe we have built up a good reputation here and most of our shows feature local performers. We wouldn’t like to completely disappear. This is where things started. It’s who I am, where I am, and the shows are always welcome here.”

Guildford is many things, but it isn’t Broadway, nor can it compare to the West End in terms of show business, but Alex has certainly not allowed that to be a hindrance. I asked him if his hometown has served his musical and theatrical goals well.

“Absolutely! There is a thriving theatre scene here, with around five performing venues. I have never felt deprived of  the right people and resources.

“Guildford is not far from London, but it is a different world here. Nevertheless, there is a familiar spirit about the place that brings with it a greater sense of company. It takes a massive team effort to make it a whole, and I appreciate that as a producer. I love working with people who want to do the job and work on the actual show itself.”

How to Succeed in Show Business Without Really Trying opens at The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on Wednesday 22nd of August and runs until Saturday 25th.

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