Steve Balsamo and Eric Woolfson talk about Poe the Musical

Musicalworld went to London to have an exclusive interview with Eric Woolfson and Steve Balsamo. We met them at the famous Abbey Road Studios and asked them all about the upcoming musical 'Poe'

Steve, we first met you at the premiere of Musicals in Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands. How did you experience those shows?
Steve: It was difficult. First of all I was very lucky and priviliged to be invited across. When I got there I realised how big the venue was and how scared I was so it was very nervewrecking. And of course all the people were very well known and very established musicalstars, so it was kind of strange going in because everyone knows eachother. Also going in and just do 2 songs was much more difficult than doing 10 songs, because you build yourself up and then you have to let it go for a while and then you have to do it again at the end of the show.

How did you get involved in that show?
Steve: Eric was contacted by several people of Joop’s company who came to see the showcase that we did with Poe last year here at the Abbey Road Studios. So they approached us to see if we wanted to be involved in that show
Eric: I went to see the show and I really enjoyed it, it was quite something. The quality and the standard was incredible. I know how difficult it is to even get a sound in that place because its like a huge fishtank but the sound was fantastic. The production was so big that somebody at one point said to me ‘did you see the horse and the rider?’. And i hadn’t seen it. For a horse with a rider come into the venue and you haven’t seen it ,because I was too busy looking at the motorcycles, that really tells you how much effort went into that production.

At Musicals in Ahoy Steve sang ‘Immortal’ from the musical Poe- more tales of mystery and imaginations. Back in 1975 the first ‘tales of mystery and imaginations’ album came out by the Alan Parsons Project, also based on poetry by Edgar Allen Poe. Eric, why Poe, what’s your facination with him?
Eric: Normally you are impressed with somebody’s work. The difference with Poe is that his life is even more bizare than his works. So you have a double dose of inspiration. You can actually see how the life trauma’s led to the works. When the inspiration is so big you can’t contain it all just to one album, so I always knew that after the 1st tales of mystery and imagination there should be more. I thougth about a movie those days, I hadn’t even thought of musicals then.

How did you get involved into writing musicals?
Eric: I used to work in a publishing company with 2 unkown other writers, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, this was in the sixties. Andrew and Tim quickly realised that to get there songs recorded, they needed a vehicle and they developed the stagemusical. I eventually developed the Alan Parsons Project as a vehicle but then I reallised that there was more to it than that and that Andrew Lloyd Webber was right and that the stagemusical was a fullfilling media for a writer like myself. I got into stagemusicals in the mid-eighties.

But how come that it took nearly 30 years between the first ‘Tales of Mystery and Imaginations’ album and the ‘Poe, More tales of Mystery and Imaginations’ album?
Eric: When we did the 1st album, it was with a record company we only had a deal with for one album. Then we were signed by another company and they asked what we wanted to do so I said that i’d like to do volume 2 of tales of mystery and imaginations. They said that they didn’t have volume one so they didn’t want it. So i had to wait a while to go back to my great inspiration…Poe.

Steve, what about you, were you familiar with Edgar Allen Poe before you started to work on this project?
Steve: Yes, I’ve read lots of his books. As a kid I grew up with the hammer horror films from the seventies. So I was also aware of his work through the horror movies.

We’re here at the famous Abbey Road Studios. Last year there were three sold out ‘Poe in Concert’ performances right here. Eric, how did it feel to perform these songs live?
Eric: We were trying to create something special. The audience was an incidental thing, we only had about 300 seats because we did it in our recording studio and not in the theater. It was a showcase, there were no technical effects because there are no theatrical possibillities here. It was a very basic thing with costumes and some choreography and a minimum of set. We didn’t think that the 1st show would work out, but it worked like a dream. Fortunately we got it all filmed
Will that footage ever be released on DVD?
Eric:Its a very interesting dvd but of course our prime interest is getting it properly done in the theater so that means that the dvd has to wait for a while.

What’s the situation with ‘Poe the musical’ at the moment? Are you working on getting it into the theater?
Eric: Yes, there are different schools of thought. There are some who say that it worked so marvelously here in the Abbey Road Studios, why don’t you do it like that. And there are those who say that if you put the special effects to the max, you could have the biggest show in the world. So at the moment, i’m investigating these possibilities
Steve: Because of the strenght of the music, the show could be taken slightly left-field. You can compare it a bit with Notre Dame the Paris. That show moved theater slightly to the left as well and opened up a whole different audience, a much younger audience. I think Poe could go down that avenue because its different from the traditional musical theater.

Eric, after your work with the Alan Parsons Project, you began to write musicals These musicals were shown in Austria, Germany and Asia, but not here in England. Any reason for that?
Eric: I think its a continuation of what happened with the Alan Parsons Project. We sold very well in countries like Holland, Germany, America and Australia, but in England we didn’t do too well. So when I came to do musicals, those countries which had bought the Alan Parsons Project were very receptive to do the musicals so I tended to go there. But I hope that this particular work (Poe) will eventually go everywhere.
Steve, will you be a part of it when it does come to West End?
Steve: Of course!
Eric: He’d better be! (laughs) Steve and I have an unusual business relationship, something that I have never experienced before with an artist. In our own way, we are both slightly missfits. Although Steve is in great demand by the theaterproducers of this country, his heart is, like mine, half in the music bussiness, half in the theater and that makes us slightly difficult to pin down. But the reallity is that I have never had my music sung better than by this guy. He takes it to another level and it really suits his voice.

Edgar Allen Poe is a very important person in the history of literature. Don’t you think its a risk to make a musical about such an icon?
Eric: No it’s not, because with Poe you can relate the songs to either his life or to the works. So if a director only wants to portrait his life or only his work, that really makes no difference for the songs. I’ll give the director a free hand to do what he wants, I’ll leave the style for this musical up to the him and the producer
Steve: I’d love it to be a dark, gothic, slightly surreal, slightly avant-garde spectacle.

Steve, you are mainly known for your role als Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar. Even today you still perform songs from that musical even though you were seen in that part back in 1996/1997. Aren’t you afraid that you will carry that label forever?
Steve: Its a difficult one. What I’ve achieved with Superstar was fantastic, it gave me a platform to move on and eventually make a record. But there is so many times that I can sing ‘Gethsemane’ and weep on the floor without getting a nervous breakdown and i’m coming quite close to the end now. Last week I had a Jesus Christ Superstar concert at Porchester Castle and that was the last time that I did it, they can’t pay me enough now to cry anymore (laughs)
Eric: One of the lucky thing for me and one of the unlucky thing for Steve about Superstar is, that when he came to do it, it had been done probably a hundred times by other people. He did an outstanding job, but with Poe, he’s the first and thats what makes the difference.

Steve, you also have your own band, the Storys. How are things with that?
Steve:Things are going good, we just finished recording, starting to mix. Hopefully we start touring in the future. The music that we make is kind of like the Eagels , bit of the Hollies and Crosby Stills and Nash, very seventies
Is the band your main focus now, or will we be seeing you again soon on West End?
Musicalwise the only thing I’m intrested in is making sure that Poe reaches its logical conclusion of getting a huge producer who makes it an incredible and visual spectacle.

Poe’s biggest fear in life was to be buried alive. What is your biggest fear
Eric: That Poe the musical is buried alive (laughs). Can you thing of anything Steve?
Steve: I was going to say something rude but i can’t….. (laughs)

16 July 2004
Abbey Road Studios
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Steve Balsamo, Eric Woolfson, Poe, Jesus Christ Superstar