Shropshire Star

Steps-tacular new musical hits the stage

It’s time to begin, now count it in...

Steps, from left, Lee, Faye, Lisa, H and Claire.

With 22 million record sales and 500 million streams under their collective belts, Steps are the UK’s most successful mixed-gender band ever.

Since coming to fame in 1997 with 5,6,7,8, Claire Richards, Faye Tozer, Ian ‘H’ Watkins, Lee Latchford-Evans and Lisa Scott-Lee have notched up 14 top five singles and four Number One albums, and have sold out arenas across 11 tours. All of which begs the question: Why has it taken so long for a Steps musical to reach the stage?

It turns out they’ve been biding their time, waiting for the dovetailing of the perfect story with the right creative team. “We feel that this is exactly the right time for Here & Now,” says Lisa. The band is co-producing the show with ROYO and Pete Waterman – the producer who helped launch their career with one smash hit after another.

Premiering at The Alexandra, Birmingham, for a limited engagement from November 9 to 24, the musical is written by Shaun Kitchener, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh and choreographed by Matt Cole. “So we’ve got the dream team,” Lisa continues. “We’ve all been dreaming about this, but we haven’t rushed the process. It’s taken time to find all the right components.”

Bandmate Faye feels exactly the same way. “We’ve actually been talking about trying to get a musical up and running for a few years now and it’s just come at a time where it was the right team, the right writers, the right producers, and it’s all just come together now.”

Steps feel it's exactly the right time for their new musical Here & Now

Claire shares Lisa and Faye’s enthusiasm for what she promises will be “a heart-warming night of humour and hilarity”. The singer adds: “The story follows two people embarking on their summer of love. We knew that we didn’t want it to be our story. It’s not about us – the characters aren’t us or based on us. This is a completely stand-alone story with our music helping to tell it. Anyone coming to see it expecting to get the story of Steps won’t get that, but hopefully they will get a really heart-warming story that will make everybody laugh and cry, and they’ll all come out of that theatre just feeling good, like they do when they come to a Steps concert.”

Hailed by The Times as “a playwright to watch” for his debut Positive, Shaun Kitchener’s other credits include Bradley One More Time and All That on stage, as well as more than 50 episodes of Hollyoaks on TV. His original book for Here & Now revolves around a seaside superstore called Better Best Bargains, which has customers dancing in the aisles every week. But when Caz discovers that the shelves are stocked with lies and betrayal, the summer of love she and her fabulous colleagues dreamed of suddenly begins to feel more like a tragedy. Have they all lost their chance of a happy ending? Or does love have other plans in store?

The musical will at The Alexandra, Birmingham, for a limited engagement from November 9 to 24

Steps fans will spot the references to some of their signature hits in that plot summary. However, as Lee points out, Shaun has crafted a strong storyline in what will be far from just another jukebox musical. “We’re not trying to shoehorn songs in there just for the sake of it,” he elaborates. “It’s been about getting the story right, then seeing which song fits which scene lyrically and emotionally. We’re so lucky to have such a huge back catalogue where we can have a good look at the songs and think ‘Which one really is going to work here?’”

H takes up the thread with: “Lyrically our songs have many, many layers. I think that’s why we as a band and our music have had massive success and longevity. Claire always talks about our lyrics being about telling a story, so they take you on a journey. Although they’re often very upbeat, happy, up tempo songs, sometimes they have kind of a dark undertone and that makes for great storytelling.”

Faye nods her head in agreement. “When we’ve had feedback from our fans, a lot of them will say that our music has been sort of the theme of the journey of their lives. It’s been like a diary, with songs that they’ve gone to when they’ve been down and songs they’ve gone to when they need to be elated and lifted again. With this show, we were very conscious of making sure that the story and the characters were exactly right and that the people who are our fans, as well as everybody else, would be able to relate to it.”

And as far as ‘everybody else’, the band are confident that those who may not be Steps fans per se, will still be able to fully enjoy the Here & Now experience.

“I think that’s really important,” says Lee. “We want Steps fans to come along and enjoy it as much as we want Joe Bloggs walking past the theatre to go, ‘I’ll check that out’. I think it has to appeal to everybody and that’s what we’re trying to do with the right team around us.”

“I think that’s a really good point,” H concurs. “I wasn’t a massive Queen fan. I knew of them and my brothers loved them, but I wasn’t necessarily a Queen fan. But when I went to see We Will Rock You, that opened up a whole new genre of music that I didn’t even know. I loved We Will Rock You, so I hope this will do the same for maybe people who wouldn’t have Steps in their pop library and on their playlists.”

Claire agrees.“There probably are some people who were maybe a bit older when we first came out but they absolutely love theatre and this is something that they would hopefully be encouraged to come and see,” she adds.

The band are confident that those who may not be Steps fans will still be able to enjoy Here & Now

Steps have had quite the journey, conquering the UK and Europe and enjoying huge success in Australia too. Formed through auditions in 1997 and scoring a Brit Award and two Number One albums in their original era, the band reunited in 2011 and went on to achieve a host of new career highs. These included five further albums to hit #1 or #2 in the UK charts, a string of radio and digital chart hits and further sold out arena tours.

“We reunited in 2011 really for the Steps: Reunion documentary,” reflects Claire. “Everyone called 2017 the comeback tour but I certainly consider 2011 as when we became Steps again, and we have been ever since – we’ve been together longer this time than we were the first time!” Lee grins. “No one’s killed anyone yet,” he remarks with a laugh.

“We’ve slotted back and fallen back into our ‘Steps selves’,” relates Faye. “It’s almost like a comfy shoe. You know where you are and you know where you stand, and we’re so very, very loyal to Steps as the brand and the legacy that we’ve got already. We’re so fortunate to have this new era for Steps. It’s been incredible but I don’t think we could have ever imagined this. We all decided a long, long time ago that if it wasn’t the five of us, Steps wouldn’t exist so the fact that we’re all on the same page for Here & Now and we’re all rooting for it and it’s our passion – this is how we make it work.”

Though as mentioned, the band are not alone. Of the rest of Here & Now’s creative team, Rachel Kavanagh is an award-winning director whose vast CV includes acclaimed dramas, Shakespeare productions and such shows as Half a Sixpence, The Sound of Music, The Great British Bake Off Musical, Guys and Dolls and Oklahoma! to name just a few. “And she’s amazing,” H gushes. “She’s so lovely and when she told us that she actually came to Steps concerts we were blown away.”

Of the rest of the crew, Faye notes: “They’re also fans of Steps, which is really important because it means they’ve got our backs and understand the ethos of our band. They’re really, really invested in this and they want to make it as successful as possible.”

Choreographer Matt Cole is another award winner, feted for his work on Newsies on Broadway and in London. His other credits include Fiddler on the Roof, Fisherman’s Friends, Flashdance, Footloose and Little Shop of Horrors. Lisa reveals that he’ll be using some of the band’s famous dance moves as inspiration. “But he’s also creating something new and fresh that’s never been seen before.”

As a fivesome, Steps are known for their spectacular (or indeed steptacular) live shows and they promise Here & Now will also be a treat for the eyes and ears. “I don’t want to give stuff away but it’s not going to be low-key,” Faye teases. “Visually, one of the reasons that we’ve chosen this specific setting is because we wanted to be able to have escapism and moments where it’s very much Steps.”

The band have always focused on giving people a good time, and Here & Now fits perfectly within that ethos. “Everybody needs escapism in their life at some point and that’s what we’re bringing with this musical,” Lee says. “As we’ve always said from day one with Steps, no matter what’s going on in your life you can come to one of our shows, put it all aside for two hours and have a great time. If we manage that with the musical too then we’ve done our job.”

n Here & Now - The Steps Musical is playing at The Alexandra, Birmingham, from November 9-24

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