A Younger Theatre’s Editor, Jake Orr, recently gave a speech concerning the future of A Night Less Ordinary, in which he discussed what restrictions young people face when entering the world of theatre. This made me wonder, if I hadn’t spent my childhood under the influence of my theatre-obsessed cousins, or with the opportunity to go to the theatre regularly, what would motivate me to spend my dwindling student funds on seeing plays or musicals?
I think the answer lies in the latest venture from Speckulation Entertainment – a music video that presents Julie Atherton’s witty portrayal of Michael Bruce’s ‘Portrait of a Princess’ (see below).
Speckulation Entertainment is a company “dedicated to producing high quality entertainment and working on a wide range of projects in a variety of genres”. In other words, it presents the best West End talent in a way that is new and exciting, for example through the production of the Notes from New York series (The Last Five Years; tick, tick … BOOM!; Christmas in New York) and albums from West End artists such as Julie Atherton and Helena Blackman. Its latest promotion of new talent revolves around the young British composer Michael Bruce, whose debut album Michael Bruce: Unwritten Songs features a host of West End talent showcasing his versatile approach to musical theatre, evoking hilarity at one extreme and emotional depth at the other. Arguably, the most talked about song on the album is Julie Atherton’s ‘Portrait of a Princess’, a satirical take on the idyllic Disney dream that is shoved down our throats from infancy. Anyone who has seen Julie Atherton perform – her work ranges from originating the role of Kate Monster in Avenue Q to her recent portrayal of Claire in Ordinary Days – knows that she excels when telling a story through song, and never has a story been told with more wit and ingenuity than when it was brought to life in the music video that Speckulation has produced to accompany ‘Portrait of a Princess’.
This kind of Internet sensation is the future because it showcases a side of theatre that is not stuffy and elitist, but is entertaining, funny, and most importantly, different. The ‘Portrait of a Princess’ music video parodies the archetypal Disney princesses who are likely to have infiltrated all of our childhoods, by introducing the distinctly adult themes of alcohol, sex and the disillusionment that comes with realising that life doesn’t always fall into place ‘in a Disney way’. It is accessible to everyone because it is so innately relatable.
It is indisputable that young people – in fact, most people – love YouTube. Whilst my personal long-standing favourite is ‘Cat vs. Printer’ (I also enjoy ‘Sleepy Cats with Cups as Hats’), ‘Portrait of a Princess’ is emerging as a serious contender in the midst of amusing animal-based videos. By promoting the video via YouTube and social networking sites, Michael Bruce’s work can reach the people that A Younger Theatre hopes to target. Not only does it introduce musical theatre to a potential fan base of millions of YouTubers, but it also introduces the new, talented composers that aren’t given the same level of exposure as the film-to-musical creations that populate West End stages. And this video isn’t your average YouTube hit produced on a grainy home camera with dubious sound quality; it is a slick, professional production that perfectly captures the descent from colourful Disney fairytale into a smutty, drunken story of a Princess-gone-awry. By exhibiting the kind of hilarity that you usually associate with watching a cat argue with a printer, but with all shine of a professionally produced video, ‘Portrait of Princess’ has the potential to become a YouTube favourite. With 34,000 hits (and counting) and the likes of Stephen Fry retweeting it for all of his two million Twitter followers to see, it is well on its way to achieving cult status. When Julie Atherton is trending amongst viral stars such as Rebecca Black and Justin Beiber, Speckulation is clearly getting something right.
My favourable opinion of ‘Portrait of a Princess’ may be influenced by my adoration of Julie Atherton’s ability to be both infectiously funny and incredibly expressive at the same time, as well as the fact that it throws all my other favourite theatre stars into cameo roles in this five-minute slice of YouTube gold. By featuring the likes of Sheridan Smith, who has successfully crossed over from starring in the likes of Gavin & Stacey to win an Olivier Award for her portrayal of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and well-known West End faces such as current Jersey Boys star and ex S Clubber Jon Lee and Notes from New York co-founder Paul Spicer, the video is reaching a multitude of fan bases. ‘Portrait of a Princess’ has the ability to have a resounding impact and draw thousands of new fans towards contemporary musical theatre by presenting people with what they want to see: a video offering real talent, with a sprinkling of well-known faces to enforce the fact that this kind of theatre really can draw in the big names.
So, for those of you who weren’t forced to act out Disney films with your cousins at every celebratory occasion that presented itself (although obviously in a far more innocent manner than Julie Atherton), Speckulation’s approach is an effective way of encouraging young people to take theatre seriously. By embracing social media sites to promote talent in a way that is unique and exciting, people will be convinced that musical theatre is a realm that can be accessed by all ages, and will realise – dedicated Les Mis fan that I am – that it doesn’t always have to be by seeing a musical that pre-dates their existence. By getting young people interested in things that are more relatable to their own lives, it is likely that they will then branch out and see the kind of theatre that they previously regarded as inaccessible to them.
So, to see some awesome talent take on the work of award-winning composer Michael Bruce, head to www.portraitofaprincess.com and join the thousands of people that are already enjoying this “fantasmagorical work of fictional fabulosity”.