Heaven sent: Closer to Heaven at the Above The Stag Theatre

Closer to Heaven is the hit musical written by Jonathan Harvey – of Gimme Gimme Gimme and Beautiful Thing fame – and the Pet Shop Boys. It debuted in the West End in 2001 and opens next week at Above The Stag starring Adele Anderson and Ian Hallard. Dave Cross had a catch up with Jonathan to find out more about this exciting revival.

Hi Jonathan, what’s the basic story of Closer to Heaven?

Oh, it’s your ‘classic boy meets girl, boy then falls for girl’s drug dealer, they have sex in a gay club toilet and she clocks it on the CCTV’ type story, so popular with musical comedies. It’s a look at London clubbing and the music industry and the larger than life characters therein.. Well, how it was at the start of the new millennium. The whole show is watched over by a faded drug addled rock star Billie Trix, who hosts the gay club where the action is set.

The original version premiered in 2001, is this new version set then or has it been updated to a 2019 setting?

It is indeed set then, not now.

The musical is inspired by the hedonistic world of clubbing, do you think LGBT London has changed much or at all since 2001?

Oh God, don’t ask me. I’m 51, my clubbing days are over, so I don’t know about that side of things, though I imagine the drugs have changed! Grindr wouldn’t have existed back then and mobile phones and email etc weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now, so clubs were often the main arena to meet other LGBT people in.

How did the idea of working with the Pet Shop Boys come about?

Someone at the BBC mooted putting us together to do a musical for the telly, but I don’t think we were keen. We went for dinner off our own back to a very snazzy restaurant called Coast and got on like a house on fire. So we decided to do a stage musical together.

What was the working process like?

We’re talking about the late nineties here so my memory is a bit hazy, but we used to go away for a few days to a place the boys had in the country where they recorded their music. We’d plan scenes together and they’d go away and write the songs and I’d go away and write the scenes then reconvene and show each other what we’d done, then have dinner. It was very civilised.

The show followed the huge success of ‘juke box’ musicals like Mamma Mia, but this is something very different, was there ever a temptation to put some of the PSB greatest hits in?

No, we were adamant we were writing something original with songs written specifically for the story we wanted to tell. I’m proud of that. My bank balance would be healthier though if we’d done It’s A Sin, the musical.

How would you describe the staging etc of the new version at ATS?

Honestly, I have no idea. I won’t be able to see the show until a dress rehearsal so I’m sure it’ll be nice surprise.

Can you tell us anything about the cast?

Again, this will be a nice surprise for me too. I do know we have Adele Anderson playing Billie Trix, which is very exciting. I am familiar with her from Fascinating Aida, so can’t wait to see what she does with Billie.


Above The Stag, 72 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, SE1.

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