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Digital Subscriptions > Classic Pop > Aug 2019 > ”A lot of the critics were taken aback when Louie Spence was gyrating in a G-string”

”A lot of the critics were taken aback when Louie Spence was gyrating in a G-string”

TWENTY YEARS AFTER THEIR FIRST VENTURE INTO MUSICAL THEATRE WITH CLOSER TO HEAVEN, PET SHOP BOYS REUNITE WITH PLAYWRIGHT JONATHAN HARVEY AND ACTRESS FRANCES BARBER FOR A SEQUEL ON THE EDINBURGH FRINGE. DOUGLAS MCPHERSON WENT BACKSTAGE TO MEET THE TEAM
Actress Frances Barber cosies up to Neil Tennant on the opening night of Closer To Heaven in 2001
© REX

“It was a musical in which the two main guys did a line of coke and then shagged in the gents toilet of a nightclub,” chortles playwright Jonathan Harvey. “It was never going to be The Sound Of Music, or on at the London Palladium!”

Maybe so, but when Harvey teamed up with Pet Shop Boys to write Closer To Heaven, they created a ground-breaking show that successfully bridged the gap between contemporary pop and traditional musical theatre, paving the way for many of the jukebox musicals that dominated the West End in the 2000s.

It also came with a superb soundtrack of specially-written Pet Shop Boys songs including Vampires, In Denial, Positive Role Model, Friendly Fire and the exhilarating title track, many of which were released ahead of the show’s West End run on their 1999 album Nightlife.

“It was before its time,” says Frances Barber, who played nightclub hostess Billie Trix in the original production, in 2001. “Think of how prescient those songs were. Take the track Shameless: ‘We’ll do anything for our 15 minutes of fame.’ Everything now is a reality TV show and they wrote a song about that 20 years ago.”

SENT FROM HEAVEN

Fast forward to the present and the same creative team is about to stage a sequel of sorts at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Penned by Harvey, MUSIK is a 50-minute one-woman show featuring Barber as Billie Trix, who talks about her life as a rock star between belting out a set of four new Pet Shop Boys songs and reprising a few favourites from Closer To Heaven.

As the band’s Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe explain about the show: “When we wrote Closer To Heaven almost 20 years ago, we loved the compelling outrageousness of the character Billie Trix as written by Jonathan and performed by Frances Barber. We have all discussed for many years the idea of creating her own one-woman show which would give us the chance to write more songs for her as she looks back on her incredible career. We’re thrilled that this show is finally happening.”

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About Classic Pop

This month, we have a world exclusive with Adam Ant as he prepares for a full-album tour of his experimental solo debut Friend Or Foe. It’s a must-read interview packed full of surprises. The pop mavericks keep on coming elsewhere, too – our classic album is The KLF’s seminal LP, The White Room, and we catch up with the inimitable Wendy James as she unveils new double album Queen High Straight. We meet the people behind Pet Shop Boys’ dazzling new stage show Musik, a return to the world of Billie Trix; playwright Jonathan Harvey and star Frances Barber fill us in on what to expect. Peter Hook tells us the story behind Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures – 40 years on, the band’s debut is still a work of staggering genius. In our album-by-album feature, we take an in-depth look at the recording career of Eurythmics and we meet Will Young to find out how he’s beaten his anxiety issues to create new studio album, Lexicon. Legendary producer Stephen Street talks us through his life in vinyl and we take a peek inside a new book on Soft Cell to uncover unseen photos of the synth-pop duo. Our packed new album reviews section includes Gary Daly, Shura, Friendly Fires, Mabel and more. On the reissues front, we serve up a selection including The Lightning Seeds, Belinda Carlisle, Big Country and Bonnie Tyler. In our live reviews section, we round up our Glastonbury Festival best bits plus check out gigs by Spice Girls, Elton John, Tears For Fears, Pink and more.