A Brief History


A Brief History...

Founded in 1976 by Jeremy James Taylor, National Youth Music Theatre’s beginnings were at Belmont, the Mill Hill junior school. Here, under Jeremy’s direction and inspired by Ben Jonson’s moving epitaph on an actor who died very young, an 11-13 cast created The Ballad of Salomon Pavey. 

Following its school performance, an adventurous and enlightened headmaster allowed his ambitious director to take the whole thing to the Edinburgh Fringe where it won fine reviews, excellent audiences, a Fringe First Award and an invitation to bring it to London as part of Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations. The visit by a school company also started the trend for schools and youth groups to take shows to the Edinburgh Fringe - a development which has grown to mammoth proportions over the years.


The company quickly became The Children’s Music Theatre, using young performers auditioned and selected from schools throughout the UK, creating a centre of excellence with many new productions, rave reviews, awards and plaudits, which meant a high profile in the arts. With this profile, which by now included invitations to perform at The National Theatre and to create new music theatre works for the BBC and Granada Television, came the opportunity to inspire and educate young people through preparing for and presenting performance at the highest level.

NYMT was, as always, rich in all but funds and moved from strength to strength.  In 1985 there was a change of name and, in the same year, the first residential workshops took place, producing strong casts for summer productions. In 1984 Frank Dunlop, the new Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, invited the company to present an opera on the Festival programme. Such was the success of this that, in 1986, he presented two more NYMT productions, which raised the profile of the company to new heights. Then, in 1987, Richard Stilgoe offered NYMT the opportunity to première his new musical, Bodywork and, as a result, Edinburgh 1987 was, in Jeremy’s words, “crazy, hilarious and fantastical”. Huge audiences and rave reviews were followed by a Royal Gala Performance with HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, in the audience and, emboldened by prestigious new associations, Jeremy invited HRH to become President of NYMT.

In the same year, 1988, NYMT found a new sponsor, Nationwide, and moved to Sadlers Wells, providing an annual 3-week season and an office with a telephone. Success indeed! An excellent first season at Sadlers Wells led to the BBC broadcast of The Ragged Child the following Christmas, a host of productions across the UK and others as far afield as Tokyo, Norway, Greece and New York. During this time NYMT’s new President attended at least one performance of every single production; an astute, honest and perceptive critic, who contributed hugely to NYMT’s development during these busy years.

In 1991, when the Nationwide sponsorship drew to a close, Andrew Lloyd-Webber generously took over the reins and gave the company a new lease of life, which included invitations to Hong Kong and Toronto and an extraordinary short season on Broadway in the 2,600 seat City Center Theater with The Threepenny Opera and Pendragon - which won Critic's Choice in the New York Times and which also won the coveted HAMADA Edinburgh Festival Award. Bursting out of Sadlers Wells, the company moved its offices to The Royal Opera House in 1992.

In 1996, NYMT was at last recognised by the government Department for Education and Employment with a 3-year grant. Bugsy Malone proved an unexpected hit that year, so much so that it transferred to the Queen's Theatre in the West End at Christmas 1997 for an 11 week capacity run. The following busy years saw NYMT spread its workshops into Northern Ireland, the North East and East Anglia and, during this time, Howard Goodall and Charles Hart gave NYMT The Kissing Dance, which enjoyed a Christmas season at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre. They then followed this with the dreaming.

NYMT in 2000 were the first company to visit the new Glyndebourne Opera House with a new production of The Ragged Child. NYMT's production of Oklahoma!, which opened at the Waterfront, Belfast in 2002, moved to the Cardiff International Festival of Musicals and was warmly received by the national press when it came to the West End's Peacock Theatre for Easter 2003. In the summer of 2003, NYMT was honoured by Sir Alan Ayckbourn who wrote and directed a new work, Orvin, Champion of Champions, for the NYMT, which he presented in his own theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, as part of the theatre's summer season.

The following two years saw a quieter period while the company took stock and drew breath. This period included a programme of development workshops in association with The Disney Corporation and Josef Weinberger to develop new musical theatre works. However, under the chairmanship of Maggie Semple, and thanks to goodwill and support from many sources, NYMT was able to announce a re-launch in 2006 with a production of the dreaming for the Tonbridge Arts Festival. NYMT was also honoured with the responsibility of providing the entertainment for Her Majesty The Queen at her private dinner to celebrate Her 80th birthday in Windsor Castle in April 2006. This was followed in 2007 with two performances directed by Caroline Leslie: Fiddler on the Roof at the Bridewell Theatre in April and Little Me at the Bloomsbury Theatre in August.

In 2008, NYMT presented to critical acclaim a new production of the Richard Taylor and Russell Labey version of Whistle Down the Wind at the Greenwich Theatre. The director was Paul Hegarty and the musical director, Jeremy Walker. As part of NYMT's Workshop Productions initiative, aimed at developing new musicals with young people, the company produced All Above Board - with book and lyrics by Hal S. Davies and music by Mike Eastman - at the Bridewell Theatre, London, in October 2008. This production was supported by the Eastman Group Ltd.

In the summer of 2009 NYMT staged a new production, directed by Andrew Pearson, of Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg's The Hired Man. Following performances at the New Hull Truck Theatre, the show was reprised in London at RADA's Vanburgh Theatre in aid of the Lord Mayor's Appeal and in the presence of Lord Bragg. In the same year, and in collaboration with Cactus Productions, NYMT showcased a new work, Totally Over You, based on a play by Mark Ravenhill and with music by Eurobeat, The Musical creator, Craig Christie. This work in progress, directed by Suzi Graham-Adriani, was performed at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue and was supported by a grant from the Mackintosh Foundation.

In the 2010 New Year's Honours List, Jeremy James Taylor was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) "in recognition of services to Young People and Musical Theatre" and, in August, Jude Law joined fellow ex-NYMTer, Tom Chambers, as patron. There followed NYMT’s most daring production yet with Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical thriller, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This production, directed by Martin Constantine, celebrated the composer's 80th birthday by taking the show out of a conventional theatre space and staging it within a converted Victorian warehouse in the city’s East End – Village Underground, near Spitalfields Market. The movement director was Sarah Redmond, whose work placed great emphasis on the role of the ensemble. A 25-piece orchestra of outstanding young musicians was directed by Jeremy Walker.

Highlights of the 2011 season included an invitation from Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh to perform for a reception at Buckingham Palace celebrating Young People in the Performing Arts. The specially commissioned performance in the ballroom, which had been inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, also featured the English National Ballet, Joe McElderry, Flawless, Alleviate and the Docklands Sinfonia. Excerpts from West Side Story were choreographed by Cristian Valle and the music was directed by Mike Batt. In July of that year, NYMT staged a new production of Sweeney Todd at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, for the International Youth Arts Festival. The 70-strong company was directed by Sarah Redmond with new design by Holly Seager.  

In April 2012 the company marked its 35th anniversary at London's Vaudeville Theatre with a concert featuring alumni, Matt Lucas, Gina Beck, Amy Nuttall, Lara Pulver, Michael Jibson, and Ian Virgo.The year also saw a remarkable collaboration with the outstanding American musical theatre composer, lyricist and playwright, Jason Robert Brown, who directed a young NYMT cast in the West End première of his musical 13 at The Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue. Sarah Redmond also directed Brown's first work, Songs for a New World, at the Bridewell Theatre.  

In the summer of 2013 NYMT staged three major productions in one of our most exciting seasons ever. In July we returned to The Rose, Kingston, with Whistle Down The Wind for the International Youth Arts Festival. At the brand new St James Theatre in London we presented the première our latest commission, The Other School, by one of Britain's most exciting young musical theatre composers, Dougal Irvine. The season ended with an epic, site-specific production of, arguably, the greatest musical ever written, West Side Story, in the vast Victoria Warehouse, Manchester, directed by Nikolai Foster with choreography by Drew McOnie.

Our Founder’s Production of The Ragged Child opened the 2014 season with performances for the IYAF at The Rose and at the Cambridge Summer Music Festival. Then followed two outstanding works to mark the Great War centenary. Nikolai Foster’s production of The Hired Man drew capacity audiences at the St James Theatre with a cast including actor-musicians and with arrangements by Tony Award-winning musical director, Sarah Travis. With the support of Arts Council England and The Williams Charitable Trust, NYMT also commissioned Brass by Benjamin Till. Based on the real-life Leeds Pals, a battalion of friends who enlisted to fight in the Great War and who suffered unimaginable losses on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, Brass was premièred at the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds on the very stage where many of the real life Leeds Pals had signed up. Brass went on to win the UK Theatre Award for Best Musical Production that year and is now published by R&H Theatricals (Europe). As a result of a tremendous fund-raising effort by the cast, and supported by the Mackintosh Foundation and the Richard Carne Trust, the company was able to produce the original cast recording, which garnered outstanding reviews.

A unique event rounded off the season. The first National Youth Music Theatre Charity Race Day was held at Sandown Park and, aside from a great day’s racing and a charity auction, the day featured performances throughout the park from present and past company members.

By now NYMT had re-established within the industry an outstanding reputation for commissioning and producing excellent new musical theatre writing. With further support from Arts Council England, the company was delighted to meet with Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary to discuss a new work for 2015. Building on NYMT’s groundbreaking work with actor-musicians in The Hired Man and Brass, it was agreed that this new commission would put music at the heart of the action, featuring the instrumental skills of more than half of the cast onstage. The result was Prodigy.

The seed of inspiration for Prodigy was a hugely critical article in The Guardian about the BBC’s coverage of the biennial Young Musician of the Year contest. Once a prestigious classical music competition, many commentators now lamented the “reality TV” style in which the competition was presented. This provided the theme for a musical about the pressure of taking part in a serious music competition against the changing nature of television to accommodate the selfie generation. Prodigy was premiered at St James Theatre, London to critical acclaim and was subsequently recorded at Auburn Jam studios, thanks to another enthusiastic fund-raising effort by the cast and the generous support of the Sharpe family. On the day of its release, the album reached no.4 in the iTunes soundtracks chart, just three places behind Hamilton!

New Year auditions began with an unusual twist when alumnus, Idris Elba arrived to film an advert for Jaguar cars. The resulting road trip movie featured places of particular significance to him. Thus he began with a return to NYMT to see how his successors were getting along – and he gladly accepted the invitation to become a Patron, too.

As the newly appointed Artistic Director at Curve, Leicester, Nikolai Foster invited NYMT to take one of its productions there for the summer of 2015. The choice was the multiple Tony award-winning Sweet Charity by Neil Simon and Cy Coleman. This rarely performed classic was revitalised by an exceptional young cast and, most critically, by a superb 18-piece band of outstanding young musicians. The third work in the 2015 season was our Founder’s Production of Pendragon at The Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.

Following NYMT’s Leicester début, the company was honoured to be invited by Nikolai Foster and by Chief Executive, Chris Stafford, to become Curve Associate Artists and to return in the 2016 season with the multi-award winning rock musical, Spring Awakening. The Founder’s Production this year was John Rutter’s children’s opera, The Piper of Hamelin, with libretto by Jeremy James Taylor and featuring a huge cast of younger company members. This touring production played at the Bury St Edmunds Festival (Theatre Royal) at the IYAF in Kingston, at Curve Leicester and at the EM Forster Theatre, Tonbridge School.

The 2016 season also saw the première at The Rose, Kingston of The Battle of Boat by Jenna Donnelly and alumnus, Ethan Lewis Maltby. This heartwarming and exciting tale of a group of children trying to find their place in a world at war in 1916 featured an epic, cinematic score and fittingly celebrated the steadfast British spirit that shone through during the Great War. The centenary of The Battle of the Somme was also marked by a new production of Brass at Hackney Empire. With a company of more than sixty young actors and musicians, this spectacular production garnered 5-star reviews. For BritishTheatre.com Julian Eaves wrote, “Again and again, all the way through this long and detailed work, balance and coordination are sustained with the highest level of artistry and skill. And this is another thing for which we have to thank NYMT. The sustained support and development of new talent, alongside the best and most experienced professionals working in the business, is another of the company’s glorious achievements.”


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