A brief history by Ray Cooney
In 1997 TWICE UPON A TIME started off as one of my comedy plays called TIME’S UP. Very simply the basic plot concerned a Member of Parliament who had been instructed by the Minister of his department to quit smoking. The MP had tried everything from patches to potions and had finally gone to a hypnotherapist to assist him in his effort to kick the filthy nicotine habit. Whilst in a trance, however, our hero is inadvertently regressed to a previous life in which he was Guy Fawkes attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament! The play then flipped between the 17th century and today.
As always, we gave the play a rehearsed play-reading which was quite encouraging and after my usual severe re-writing, we embarked on a full-scale try-out at one of my favourite theatres, the Theatre Royal, Windsor. A lot of the piece worked very well but, in my heart, I realised that, no matter how much re-writing I did, the ‘Guy Fawkes’ situation didn’t work. It was the first time in rather a long career I hadn’t re-written and re-written to get my ‘baby’ right. So I got on with other projects.
Two years went by then, in 1999, I woke up one morning and thought “Of course! TIME'S UPshould be a movie!” The usual huge re-write ensued and our hero became a lawyer who was told by his boss and prospective father-in-law to quit smoking. Hero goes to the hypnotherapist and is duly regressed – to when he was a gangster with Bugs Moran and Al Capone in 1929 Chicago.
I took the much improved screenplay around the Hollywood Studios where a great deal of interest was shown (“Oh, my God, Ray this is the funniest script I’ve ever read”) – and, after two years, absolutely nothing had happened. So I got on with other projects.
Two years went by then, in 2004, I woke up one morning and thought “Of course! TIME'S UPshould be a musical!” Before I embarked upon my usual huge re-write I was fortunate enough to bring on board Chris Walker to compose the music.
I thought plays involved a load of re-writing; Chris and I soon discovered what musicals do to the nervous system. Since 2004 we’ve done four rehearsed workshops of our piece and a full-scale try-out at Guildford. Chris tells me he's written enough numbers to fill three musicals and, apparently, I’m now on my 33rd version of the script. And it's not finished yet! I must admit that if the audiences’ response during the show’s various outings had not been so encouraging, even I might have thrown in the towel by now.
So! With the show fluctuating between England today and 1929 Ragtime Chicago I thought it would be a good idea to check it out with an American audience. So!!! Under its new title (yes, we re-write everything!) TWICE UPON A TIME, we’re embarking on a workshop at the beautiful Civic Light Opera Company, Redondo Beach, California in November followed by a full-scale production at that theatre in February 2008, where we are so happy to have secured the services of Larry Blank as orchestrator. Larry is well known for his arrangements of DR DOOLITTLE, WHITE CHRISTMAS, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, THE PRODUCERS and many, many more.
I’m not sure where (or when!) this saga will end but the trip has been huge fun and well worthwhile – and Chris and I are still friends! Mind you, if there are more re-writes after Redondo…