McCartney is writing an adaptation of one of the world’s most loved films It’s A Wonderful Life
Sir Paul McCartney confirms a career first. He is working on a musical stage adaptation of one of the most iconic films in cinema history – Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s “The Greatest Gift,” the legendary movie was directed and produced by Frank Capra and released in 1946.
McCartney has partnered with British theater and film impresario Bill Kenwright who will produce the show. Kenwright originally approached McCartney three years ago after acquiring the rights to the much-loved film that over seven decades since its release continues to be a prime time must for television audiences all around the world. The pair enjoy a lifetime’s connection having both been born and raised in Liverpool, and both attended the Liverpool Institute High School (now LIPA – the acclaimed performing arts academy founded by McCartney).
In addition to writing the music, McCartney has been working on the lyrics with the Tony Award winning English screen and play writer Lee Hall, who is also responsible for the book of the musical.
As a child, McCartney inherited a love of Broadway and show tunes from his father Jim who would perform at home on the family piano on every occasion possible, and this influence would eventually permeate into McCartney’s own song-writing and diverse compositions.
“Like many of these things this all started with an email. Bill had asked if it was something I might be up for,” McCartney shares. “Writing a musical is not something that had ever really appealed to me but Bill and I met up with Lee Hall and had a chat and I found myself thinking this could be interesting and fun. ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is a universal story we can all relate to.”
“Working with Paul on It’s a Wonderful Life is a dream realized,” Kenwrights adds. “To be honest I was hooked on first hearing him say ‘one/two/three/four’ on the demo of the opening number! But since then it’s been an extraordinary journey – on every song I experience Paul’s unique gift of melody and composition. It’s musical theatre – but it’s always McCartney. Paul, Lee, and I use the word ‘cherish’ when we refer to our source material and that’s what we intend to do. Cherish Frank Capra’s creation.”
“It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite film,” Hall says. “It has absolutely everything comedy, pathos and a rare humanity which has touched generation after generation. Yet it just couldn’t be more relevant. To give it a life on the stage is an immense privilege in itself but to do with Paul McCartney is off the scale. Paul’s wit, emotional honesty and melodic brilliance brings a whole new depth and breadth to the classic tale. I feel as if an angel must be looking after me.”
McCartney, who has written some of the world’s most loved, celebrated and enduring music, has musically realized the emotional story of a man down on his luck George Bailey. Unaware of all the lives he has touched and how different his community would be had he never been born; Bailey is close to suicide. However, he is saved by the intervention of a guardian angel – and, of course, as in all feel good, but resonant movies, Bailey realizes the true value of his life.
Some 70 years since the release of the film the story still remains relevant today, probably even more so, as a reminder to cherish family, friends and the life you have, something Paul McCartney has always strived to do in his own life and work.
For Bill Kenwright, the production will be a lifetime’s ambition. As a very young producer, Kenwright personally reached out to Frank Capra to see if he could get the rights to turn the film into a musical. Kenwright received a lovely handwritten letter by reply – but it contained a no! However, out of the blue, many decades later he was offered the rights when he was in the middle of another project with Paramount. It was a massive moment for the now hugely successful producer, and he dared to dream of involving his school friend on what would be McCartney’s first major musical journey. They met, and amongst discussing all things Liverpool, school and rock and roll, they sort of agreed to take things further.
It wasn’t until two years later that McCartney shared his first musical ideas with Kenwright. Kenwright recalls, “It was a Friday night and I was in the office. I suppose you could say it hadn’t been the best of weeks. No real progress on multitudinous film and theater projects – and Everton had lost the previous Saturday. Out of the blue I got an email from Paul asking my thoughts on his first stab at an opening song. He wasn’t sure – but wanted to know what Lee and I thought of it? I played the demo. Lee and I were unanimous. Our hero was a musical theater writer!”
McCartney was in the middle of releasing his No. 1 album Egypt Station in September 2018 as well as launching a global tour to support the album release, but in between touring and album commitments McCartney found time to work with Lee Hall on more songs. Both here and in New York.
Kenwright remembers another moment in January of this year the day after he’d watched Everton lose in an FA Cup match at Millwall. He was inconsolable – but Hall rang him from the airport after working with McCartney in New York and brought over a further six tracks in demo form. His gloom started to lift.
“They exceeded expectations for both of us. The songs take you somewhere you don’t expect to go. They sound simple – but it’s deceptive. That’s Paul’s genius. I don’t have to tell any lover of music how extraordinary he is – but he constantly takes my breath away. Since we worked together on the The Pitmen Painters Lee has been a special writer and person to me. And it’s a privilege to watch Paul and Lee create so vibrantly together.”
Having just completed the US leg of his current Freshen Up world tour in front of a sell out audience at Los Angeles Dodger Stadium last weekend, McCartney is still in the final stages of completing songs for his entry into musical theater. It’s a Wonderful Life is set to launch in late 2020.