Until a few short weeks ago very few people will have even heard of Amy Anzel. Now, thanks to the three-part series on Channel 4 - The Sound of Musicals, everyone who is anyone in musical theatre has an opinion of her. Julian Cound spoke to her recently to find out what makes her click.
“I started out in Community Theatre over in the States - that the equivalent of amateur theatre over here. This kind of start as a performer is invaluable, you learn so much. A whole load of people now in the profession started out in amateur theatre and it’s just the best way to learn and you make life-long friends too.”
“As a performer I was fortunate to get involved in the original developmental workshops for ‘Happy Days’ some ten years ago. The show never really developed at that time. But I could see the potential with the popularity of 1950s Americana over here in the UK. You have Grease, Hairspray and The Jersey Boys so I thought ‘Happy Days’ would fit in so well.”
Speaking to Amy you get taste of the drive and passion she has for a project. In a world where it’s easier to say “I can’t do that” Amy seems to have the mantra of “I’m going to do that if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Yes, there are a lot of nay-sayers in this industry, but if you believe in a project so much then it has to deserve your complete dedication and drive, otherwose what is the point?”
“I love this show and I know UK audiences are going to love it too - that is why I have spent all my time and energy to give it a life on the stage.”
The recent Channel 4 documentary ‘The Sound of Musicals’ heavily showcased Amy in her drive to get people such as Henry Winkler - the original Fonz in the TV series, and Craig Revel-Horwood on-board.
“Again it was my tenacity that got me involved. I heard that Channel 4 were creating the documentary so I contacted the producers and told them my story and it went from there. If you have something to say then you can not hold back, take every opportunity you have to get your message out there.”
“Getting Henry (Winkler) on-board was just as it was shown in the documentary. I heard he was doing a book signing so Channel 4 contacted WH Smith to get clearance to film, I purchased a book and waited in line... the rest is TV history. What the documentary didn’t show, thankfully, was how much I was shaking with nerves.”
“Craig’s involvement made for some great TV but unfortunately - for many various reasons, things did not work out, but I now have the fabulous director / choreographer Andrew Wright (Barnum, Singin’ In The Rain, Betty Blue Eyes) at the helm and I couldn’t be happier.”
In the documentary we saw Amy hold open auditions for her cast.
“That was a conscious decision on my part. Over in the States there are regular open calls for Broadway shows which gives anyone with the passion and drive the chance to have a go. Here in the UK it seems so much more of a closed-shop - you sometimes only get to hear about auditions after they have happened. I wanted to see new, raw talent from all over the UK - you never know who you may pick up.”
“With Ben (Freeman), Heidi (Range) and Cheryl (Baker) we have three fabulous leads, but we also have cast members making their professional debut in the show including Scott Waugh playing Richie Cunningham.”
Amy has put a huge amount of her life - and her money, into the show but she is also the first major producer to use Crowdfunding as a means of raising the necessary capitol to put the show on.
“Crowdfunding works for me in so many ways. Firstly it raises the much needed funds - we have raised over £250,000 through it, but also it creates a huge number of ‘ambassadors’ for the show throughout the UK who will help sell the show for you.”
Crowdfunding allows any individual to put up money for the show for a percentage of the returns - but on a much smaller scale than theatre production investment.
“Normally a West End show would ask individuals for investment of around £10,000, with Happy Days crowdfunding people can get involved for as little as £10. I now have nearly 400 investors nationwide who are talking about the show and eager to ensure it sells well.”
Happy Days - A New Musical will debut at The Churchill Theatre in Bromley on January 14th, 2014 - previews starting on January 11th. The tour will run from January to July and Amy hopes to see it brought to the West End.