“I wanna play my own kinda song
With no one to tell me its wrong”
Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s musical Prodigy was commissioned and developed by the National Youth Music Theatre and received its premiere last summer, inconveniently whilst I was on holiday, and so I’m glad to say that an Original Cast Recording has now been released in cahoots with the good folk of Auburn Jam Records. It was a busy year for Brunger and Cleary as their musical of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ also opened in Leicester and even more so when you discover how Prodigy was developed.
Set behind the scenes of a barely fictional reality TV show to find Britain’s best upcoming classical musician, we delve into the lives of the five young finalists in all their teenage awkwardness, social stuntedness and parental pressure. And drawing on the talents of the NYMT available to them, the writers tailored the material to actor-musician roles, allowing the leads to play off their skills and not just them, more than half of the cast of 27 play some kind of actor-musician part, not bad for a bunch of 11-23 year olds.
Cleary’s score for Prodigy has a bright pop sound to it, the title track midway through the second act has the kind of soaring chorus you’d easily hear in the charts, married to rat-a-tat verses and spoken interludes that set up the live final, and its this easy mix of pop and musical theatre that characterises the show. And with co-lyricist and book-writer Brunger, there’s an ineffably British feel to the people here, the working class Sunderland kid, the Tunbridge Wells toff, though their crises are undoubtedly universal – finding your own identity, gaining the confidence to stand up to your parents and fixing your own priorities.
And the performance level here is fantastic, without being told you’d barely suspect that this was such a young cast. Caroline Whittingham’s flautist Kate, Harry Al-Adwani’s percussionist Luke, Jamie Dodd’s trumpeter Rupert, Amelia Thompson’s clarinettist Claire and Sephora Parish’s pianist Jessie are all superb as the 5 finalists, playing out the unexpected love connections and bitterly held feuds with real style and musical confidence. And Emma Ernest and Tom Ramsay both excel as two of their parents, conveying real maturity in the expression of all their parental fears.
There’s strong comic work from the parodic TV presenters played by Callum Howells and Francesca McKen, and sweetly lovely work from Luke Rozanski and Hannah Irvine as two overlooked younger siblings who finally get their moment to shine. Brunger and Cleary’s writing in Prodigy really has been well-judged – in working so closely with their company, the show emerges as a genuine ensemble piece, one which is both moving and funny and extremely musically accomplished.