Actor Joel Rooks stars in Hi, My Name is Ben (Photo: Adrien Broom Photography/ Goodspeed Musicals)
Actor Joel Rooks stars in Hi, My Name is Ben (Photo: Adrien Broom Photography/ Goodspeed Musicals)

Scots team develop new musical in America

The captivating story of a New York man who had an extraordinary impact on the people around him – despite being unable to speak – is to be brought to the stage by a Scottish-based and trained creative team in one of the most talked about musicals to premiere in the USA this year.

From his tiny room in a corner of New York City, Bernhardt Wichmann III changed the lives of those nearby without ever speaking a word.

Using his notepad, pen and open heart, Ben turned a neighbourhood of strangers into a community of friends before finally encountering a miracle of his own.

The story appeared in the New York Times, where it was read by Royal Conservatoire graduates Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie, who form award-winning musical theatre team Noisemaker. It sparked their imagination and helped forge an historic collaboration between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduates, Dundee Rep Theatre and Goodspeed Musicals, which are bringing Ben’s tale to life on stage.

The creative team brims full of Royal Conservatoire alumni including director Professor Andrew Panton, artistic director of Dundee Rep Theatre, Visiting Professor and former artistic director of Musical Theatre at the Royal Conservatoire; choreographer Emily-Jane Boyle, artistic associate at Dundee Rep; and musical director Gavin Whitworth. Royal Conservatoire MA Musical Theatre graduate Abigail E Stephenson plays Lucy as part of a star-studded cast which includes Broadway performers Joel Rooks, Adam Kaplan and Tony-nominee Barbara Walsh.

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: ‘The Hi, My Name is Ben ensemble is a great example of the power of collaboration nurtured in Scotland, with this production bringing together the creative forces of Royal Conservatoire graduates, Dundee Rep Theatre and Goodspeed Musicals.

‘From the writing to the direction, musical direction and action on stage, it’s lovely to see our graduates involved in almost every facet of this new production, testament to the multi-disciplinary training environment which exists at Scotland’s national conservatoire.’

Actor Joel Rooks stars in Hi, My Name is Ben (Photo: Adrien Broom Photography/ Goodspeed Musicals)

The idea for the musical became a reality for Scott and Claire during a two-week residency, when the duo became the first Scottish writing team to be selected for the prestigious Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed, an organisation dedicated to the preservation, development and advancement of musical theatre.

Goodspeed produces three musicals each season at The Goodspeed in East Haddam, Connecticut and additional productions at The Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut, which was opened in 1984 for the development of new musicals.

Claire McKenzie, co-founder of Noisemaker, said: ‘Since we discovered Ben’s story back in 2016, development of the show has been split between Scotland and America. Being able to bring it to life in this way has enabled the work to have an authentically universal voice, which, for us, was essential.

‘It’s a story about communication, connection and what it means to be happy, something we felt resonates with any audience, regardless of which side of the water they’re on.’

Fellow co-founder at Noisemaker Scott Gilmour said: ‘It’s massively exciting to feel such a global interest, not just in stories about Scotland, but the way we, as Scottish artists, go about telling them. We’re proud to have brought Hi, My Name is Ben to this point, and are thrilled for its premiere at Goodspeed.’

In 2018, as part of the musical’s development, a concert performance was staged at Dundee Rep featuring music from the work in a collaboration with Scottish Ensemble. It featured a cast containing several RCS graduates including Katie Barnett, Melanie Bell and Charlotte Miranda-Smith. Rehearsals have now moved to the USA as the premiere fast approaches.

Professor Andrew Panton, Artistic Director of Dundee Rep, said: ‘We’re currently in the final stages of rehearsals for Hi, My Name is Ben. It’s very exciting for Dundee Rep to be collaborating across the Atlantic with Goodspeed Musicals on this beautiful new piece.

‘We have a tremendously talented cast, creative and production team and together we’re enjoying bringing Ben’s incredible story to life in the country he was born and grew up in, before sharing it with audiences here.’

Donna Lynn Hilton, producer at Goodspeed Musicals, said: ‘All of us at Goodspeed are thrilled to be working with Dundee Rep, Andrew Panton and Noisemaker. We are so close to opening and look forward to seeing the fruits of over two years of long collaboration.

‘Rehearsals have been exhilarating and joyful. We are all challenging one another’s creative expectations and habits, learning from one another as we bring to life this moving new American musical from a Scottish team. We only wish that the Dundee Rep audience could hop across the pond to share in the journey.’

Hi, My Name is Ben tickets are available via the Goodspeed Musicals website HERE.