Is Katy Lipson the future of musical theatre?
WHEN TALKING to Katy Lipson it’s easy to conclude that you’re speaking to the future of musical theatre in this country. And not just because the 32-year-old London-based Mancunian is currently producing no less than six musicals, nor because a few weeks ago she won the Best Producer award at the Offies, which recognises off-West End theatre, but because she talks about her passion for musical theatre with the breathless enthusiasm of the very young and the knowledge and authority of the very old.
Also, her place at the heart of future musicals seems particularly assured today as standing a few feet away is perhaps the most influential living figure of past musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Lipson and I are sitting in the foyer of London’s newly named The Other Palace theatre (formerly the St James’s Theatre) which, since Lloyd Webber became involved in running the place earlier this year, has been dedicated to nurturing and discovering new musicals.
And there he is, looking fashionably dated in a flowery shirt and talking very seriously to a colleague about matters musical, no doubt. He doesn’t look in this direction, and he’s not in Lipson’s eye-line, so they don’t acknowledge each other. But, over the next few weeks at least, the two will be in close collaboration with a forthcoming festival of new musical theatre, From Page To Stage (FPTP).
One of the highlights is a new musical by Burt Bacharach called Some Lovers. It’ll be given a 12-performance try-out during FPTP and if any show reflected the sheer ambition of Lipson, this is it. She’s just come back from visiting Bacharach in Los Angeles.
“I went to his house in Santa Monica with my co-producer Olly Rosenblatt,” says Lipson with only a hint of awe. “We sat in his living room. There were a lot of Emmy and Grammy awards around. Lots of memorabilia, records, CDs and a beautiful grand piano in the corner. He said: ‘Come and hear the new song!’ We had a lovely chat about his music and what I was up to.”
Lipson is up to a lot. The six shows currently on her roster range from the kitschy cult horror Toxic Avenger, which returns to London after a stint at the Edinburgh Festival, and a re-invented version of the 1960s classic Hair, which transfers from Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre to London’s The Vaults in October. But the show that is taking Lipson up a league in the producing stakes is her revamped version of The Addams Family musical which is touring the UK until November.
“It’s my biggest production ever and it’s the show that has allowed me to expand my business plan. I’ve been able to bring on staff which has been huge for me and allowed me to continue to develop projects for 2018 and ’19.”
This is the kind of strategic business talk you might expect of a producer. But one of the ways in which Lipson differs from her producer peers is that she can hold her own on stage as well as off it.
“I play piano, cello and guitar and write songs,” she says as candidly as she does about her business plan.
“As I was building [her production company] Aria I made my income from being a self-employed music teacher. And because that money is quite decent I would do that for two or three days a week while I was building my business.”
She gets her acumen from her father, a businessman in property, she says. Her brother Rick is a top set designer working with “entertainment architects” Stufish, whose clients include U2.
But Lipson also has a degree in classical music, plays cello, guitar and piano to professional standard and performed in a good few shows after she graduated. There are, I say, few producers who can actually do the thing they produce.
‘It’s true,” she agrees. “At 20, I was writing my own musicals, putting them on the stage and playing piano for them.”
So why choose producing over performing?
“I never really felt that performance was my calling. I could sing and act and knew I could oscillate between performing and directing. But I just knew in my soul that I wasn’t going to pursue it. I never felt passionate enough.”
Passion is key and the thing that she found she has in common with producer Sonia Friedman from whom Lipson received her Best Producer award.
“We both produce from the heart and, like Sonia, I only lead produce. She’s a huge inspiration. A lot of producers don’t have ideas. They piggyback on someone else’s ideas. But Sonia commissions, develops, transfers and enhances — and I think we’re very similar in those ways.”
Where the two might differ is that Lipson cut her producing teeth on what she calls her “Jewish shows”.
While teaching, a thought popped into her head. What about a show that celebrated the Jewish contribution to showbiz?
“I didn’t have a clue how commercially successful it would be,” she says, but the result — shows such as Jewish Legends, The Great American Jewish Songbook and That’s Jewish Entertainment — played to Jewish audiences in Radlett, Highgate and Hornchurch among others and were key to the survival of perhaps this country’s most promising producer.
“I worked for so many years for no income. I invested all my money into shows and often it would be the Jewish show at the Gatehouse that would make profit and keep me going.
I lost a lot of money over the years. But they were critical successes so I did have that joy.”
‘From Page To Stage’ summer festival is at The Other Palace, August 14 – September 3 2017. Box Office: theotherpalace.co.uk/ www.frompage2stage.com
The Addams Family musical is currently touring the UK