Paul McCartney is collaborating on a stage musical adaptation of the Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life, it has been announced.
The 1946 classic, starring James Stewart, was produced and directed by Frank Capra. It tells the story of a suicidal man, George Bailey, who is saved by a guardian angel, played by Henry Travers, who shows Bailey the difference his life has made.
The adaptation is McCartney’s first stage musical, although he has previously created film scores, ballet works, and the 1984 film musical Give My Regards To Broad Street.
The new collaboration, is set to launch in late 2020, came about after producer Bill Kenwright acquired the rights to It’s A Wonderful Life, and approached McCartney with the idea.
Like many of these things, this all started with an email. Bill had asked if it was something I might be up for. Writing a musical is not something that had ever really appealed to me, but Bill and I met up with Lee Hall and had a chat and I found myself thinking this could be interesting and fun.
The script is being written by Lee Hall, who is also collaborating with McCartney on the lyrics.
It’s A Wonderful Life is my favourite film. It has absolutely everything – comedy, pathos and a rare humanity which has touched generation after generation.
To give it a life on the stage is an immense privilege in itself, but to do with Paul McCartney is off the scale.
Paul’s wit, emotional honesty and melodic brilliance brings a whole new depth and breadth to the classic tale. I feel as if an angel must be looking after me.
Here’s the full press release:
Paul is writing his first musical – an adaptation of one of the world’s most loved films
‘It’s A Wonderful Life’
Music & Lyrics by Paul McCartney
Book and Lyrics by Lee Hall
Produced by Bill Kenwright
Today, Paul confirms a career first. He is working on a musical stage adaptation of one of the most iconic films in cinema history – Frank Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s ‘The Greatest Gift’ the legendary movie was directed and produced by Frank Capra and released in 1946.
Paul has partnered with British theatre and film impresario Bill Kenwright who will produce the show. Bill originally approached Paul three years ago after acquiring the rights to the much-loved film that over seven decades since its release continues to be a Prime-Time must for television audiences all around the world. Paul and Bill enjoy a lifetime’s connection having both been born and raised in Liverpool, and both attended the Liverpool Institute High School (now LIPA – the acclaimed performing arts academy founded by Paul).
In addition to writing the music Paul has been working on the lyrics with the Tony Award winning English screen and play writer Lee Hall, who is also responsible for the book of the musical.
As a child Paul inherited a love of Broadway and show tunes from his father Jim who would perform at home on the family piano on every occasion possible, and this influence would eventually permeate into Paul’s own song-writing and diverse compositions.
Speaking about this news Paul said:
“Like many of these things this all started with an email. Bill had asked if it was something I might be up for. Writing a musical is not something that had ever really appealed to me but Bill and I met up with Lee Hall and had a chat and I found myself thinking this could be interesting and fun.‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is a universal story we can all relate to.”
Bill Kenwright said:
“Working with Paul on “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a dream realised. To be honest I was hooked on first hearing him say “one/two/three/four” on the demo of the opening number! But since then it’s been an extraordinary journey – on every song I experience Paul’s unique gift of melody and composition. It’s musical theatre – but it’s always McCartney.
Paul, Lee, and I use the word “cherish” when we refer to our source material and that’s what we intend to do. Cherish Frank Capra’s creation.”
Lee Hall said:
“It’s A Wonderful Life is my favourite film. It has absolutely everything comedy, pathos and a rare humanity which has touched generation after generation. Yet it just couldn’t be more relevant. To give it a life on the stage is an immense privilege in itself but to do with Paul McCartney is off the scale. Paul’s wit, emotional honesty and melodic brilliance brings a whole new depth and breadth to the classic tale. I feel as if an angel must be looking after me.”
Paul, who has written some of the world’s most loved, celebrated and enduring music, has musically realised the emotional story of a man down on his luck George Bailey. Unaware of all the lives he has touched and how different his community would be had he never been born; George is close to suicide. However, he is saved by the intervention of a guardian angel – and, of course, as in all feel good, but resonant movies, George realises the true value of his life.
Some 70 years since the release of the film the story still remains relevant today, probably even more so, as a reminder to cherish family, friends and the life you have, something Paul has always strived to do in his own life and work.
For Bill Kenwright, the production will be a lifetime’s ambition. As a very young producer, Bill personally reached out to Frank Capra to see if he could get the rights to turn the film into a musical. Bill received a lovely handwritten letter by reply – but it contained a no! However, out of the blue, many decades later he was offered the rights when he was in the middle of another project with Paramount. It was a massive moment for the now hugely successful producer, and he dared to dream of involving his school friend on what would be Paul’s first major musical journey. They met, and amongst discussing all things Liverpool, school and rock and roll, they sort of agreed to take things further…
It wasn’t until two years later that Paul shared his first musical ideas with Bill. Bill recalls: “It was a Friday night and I was in the office. I suppose you could say it hadn’t been the best of weeks. No real progress on multitudinous film and theatre projects – and Everton had lost the previous Saturday. Out of the blue I got an email from Paul asking my thoughts on his first stab at an opening song. He wasn’t sure – but wanted to know what Lee and I thought of it? I played the demo. Lee and I were unanimous. Our hero was a musical theatre writer!”
Paul was in the middle of releasing his number one album Egypt Station in September 2018 as well as launching a global tour to support the album release, but in between touring and album commitments Paul found time to work with Lee Hall on more songs. Both here and in New York.
Bill remembers another moment in January of this year the day after he’d watched Everton lose in an FA Cup match at Millwall. He was inconsolable – but Lee rang him from the airport after working with Paul in New York and brought over a further six tracks in demo form. His gloom started to lift…
“They exceeded expectations for both of us. The songs take you somewhere you don’t expect to go. They sound simple – but it’s deceptive. That’s Paul’s genius. I don’t have to tell any lover of music how extraordinary he is – but he constantly takes my breath away. Since we worked together on the The Pitmen Painters Lee has been a special writer and person to me. And it’s a privilege to watch Paul and Lee create so vibrantly together.”
Having just completed the US leg of his current Freshen Up world tour in front of a sell-out audience at Los Angeles Dodger Stadium last weekend, Paul is still in the final stages of completing songs for his entry into musical theatre. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is set to launch in late 2020.
Also on this day...
- 2009: Paul McCartney live at Citi Field, New York
- 2008: Pete Best to release new CD
- 2008: Limited edition Beatles iPod to be sold by Bloomingdales
- 2008: Beatles Monopoly set to pass Go
- 2008: Lennon childhood biopic awarded UK Film Council grant
- 1969: Recording, mixing: Oh! Darling, Octopus’s Garden
- 1968: Recording: Cry Baby Cry, Helter Skelter
- 1963: Recording: You Really Got A Hold On Me, Money, Devil In Her Heart, Till There Was You
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.