Romantic musical comedy When Harry Met Barry was last seen in London six years ago at Above the Stag Theatre’s original venue in Victoria. Now it’s back with a reworked script, gorgeous new actors and a happy ending – hurrah! We spoke with Paul Emelion Daly, who wrote both the book and the lyrics, about the return of this feel-good story for the 21st century.
Hi Paul, how did you come to write When Harry Met Barry?
I wrote my first musical which I tried out and every character died at the end! But amongst the carnage there was a love triangle – boy-meets-girl-but-also-fancies-a-boy, which I thought could be interesting to explore. So I decided to look at the elements I like in a musical, which is zany, fast-paced, off-Broadway style comedy, but with big themed tunes. So I put together a few songs at the Kings Head Theatre, got encouraged by the feedback and thankfully I decided to go for it.
How near is the script to the film When Harry Met Sally?
For my sins I’ve never seen the movie, apart from the iconic scenes. No, it’s not a gay version of the movie, although I like the fact it’s a gay play on that title.
What was the reaction like when it first ran six years ago?
The reaction was amazing and it became a sell out. Audiences always enjoy themselves. But with my writer’s hat I would think ‘Maybe I should have cut this or change that or improve that…’ So I’m very grateful to have a second chance and give the show a lot more depth, scope and make it a bit more grown up.
Remind us of the general plot?
Romances for trendy clubber Spencer with TV chef Harry, and then bookshop girl Alice with hunky lawyer Barry. But no one counts on Harry and Barry bumping into each other in the back of a taxi and rekindling an old friendship…
Has the script changed much since?
Our director, Steven Dexter, encouraged me to be a bit bolder with the show, so we cut the Cupid Angel who used to preside over the proceedings. Since then the show opened up and really focused on the relationships and the emotions became a little bit deeper. Now it’s like looking at a new show and personally it’s the production I always wanted it to be.
What’s your favourite song from the show and why?
When Harry Met Barry started out it became one of the winners of new musicals at the London Palladium. When one of the songs performed Why Ask for the Moon? ended the audience just stood up and went berserk. I remember thinking ‘I don’t think I’ll be cutting out that song in a hurry!’
You’ve worked with Above the Stag several times over the years – why do you think it continues to go from strength to strength?
Peter Bull and Andrew Beckett work tirelessly to keep maintaining a varied and interesting programme of plays, musicals, pantos and new writing, which is always exciting. I also think the venue attracts West End directors, designers, casting agents and performers. I always feel I’m seeing a West End show there but with comfort and intimate surroundings, which is so appealing. You can’t beat a Stag night out!
Finally, why should people come and see this show?
When Harry Met Barry has a big heart, which I think will be touched by everyone. By the end of the show you can’t help but be under its musical spell and make you feel good and fabulous!