EVER since he was a youngster Liam O’Rafferty has had an enduring love for musicals. The Sound of Music, he simply couldn’t get enough of. But it was West Side Story that really got to him – and it still does.
Now, as his 50th birthday approaches, Swindon design agency boss Liam has realised a dream by writing his own musical.
Four years in the making, Paper Hearts is a bitter-sweet, quirky love story set in a high street book shop.
Next week several songs from the musical, along with a few dramatic sequences from the production, will be premiered in Swindon as part of the Wyvern Theatre’s performing arts festival, Madam Renard’s Mini Fringe season.
It will feature a large cast of actors and musicians, including Bindy Baker, the talented singer/actress daughter of former Dr Who star Colin Baker.
The 45-minute show will be the first of several performed across the South West and London area over the coming months as Liam seeks to attract the interest of investors and other movers and shakers from the industry.
The Wyvern show on the evening of Wednesday, April 2, will be also be filmed and added to the Paper Hearts website. Says Liam: “It’s a long term project. I hope to show that Swindon has some fantastic musicians and writers.”
He describes the production as “fairly contemporary,” comparing it to shows like current West End hit Once. “Some numbers incorporate jazz, while others are orchestrated. There is a good mix,” he says.
Liam grew up in Park North and went to St Joseph’s Catholic School before attending the Swindon School of Art and Design.
For the past 14 years he has run the Swindon-based Red Rocket Design agency but has always written, performed and recorded music, and at one time toured as a duo The Third Man with local guitarist Bob Bowles.
While his music has generally been blues/rock based, Liam says: “I love musicals that have really strong, memorable numbers. As a kid I loved Sound of Music – you can’t get those songs out of your head. “Musicals that have influenced me are The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown, and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. But the one that really inspires me is West Side Story. In my opinion you can’t get much better than that.”
He was finally inspired to write a musical himself after seeing a show at the Wyvern. “I came up with the idea of a musical set in a struggling high street bookshop. I set myself the task of writing a musical in two acts. “I decided from the outset that I would write the book, script, music and lyrics.” Reflecting on four years of artistic toil, he goes on: “No one in their right mind should attempt this, it is incredibly hard. Learning the piano was a great help; and also understanding how an orchestra works.”
He added: “I have a fundamental belief that musical theatre is a popular art form that demands great songs, catchy tunes and cool rhythms.” Having taken a “good long look” at musical theatre, Liam says he feels the time is right “for outsiders to come in with something new to say and to shake everything up – just like punk rock did to the music scene in the Seventies.”
Phoenix Casting in Bristol helped him recruit some professional singers; more than 50 people responded for the part of the two main leads, Atticus and Lilly.
With the aid of Swindon producer/musician Jon Bucket they auditioned 20 singers, and finally chose Bindy Baker and Damien Edwards.
Liam’s ultimate aim is to get Paper Hearts onto the stage off-Broadway.
He adds: “I have come a long way since starting out on this. It has given me a lot of confidence with song and script writing. The feedback has been fantastic.”
l Paper Hearts is one of two productions being shown at the Wyvern from 7pm on April 2; the other is The Indisposition of David Philips, a new musical comedy by Matt Fox and Jessie Thompson. Tickets are £12 plus concessions. Ticket Office: 01793 524 481