Tim Spencer's 'Rising Sun' - History of the Show

In the Spring of 1996, following on from the concert version of Berlin, I started to think about new productions. One of the most resounding calls after Berlin was for a show which gave more roles for women, as Berlin (in the 1994 version) only had one main female part. So, as I was thinking of new designs, I wanted to come up with an all female musical. I was planning, for the summer of 1997, to run 3 workshops with new productions to take forward. One was ‘Vincent’, an operetta based on the life of Van Gogh, another was an original idea called ‘Clowns’, a romantic love story and the third was to be the female led musical. As I got into the thought process I came up with two suggestions in my mind, one was based on St Trinians – this idea though had recently been used in the show ‘Moby Dick’, the other was one based in the depths of the Japanese Women’s Prisoner of War camps of the 2nd World War, a kind of ‘Tenko’ idea. This became the musical ‘Rising Sun’. So, with this in mind I started my research. I knew I wanted it to be set in the same environment but didn’t want to do a straight ‘Tenko – the musical’. For the 1997 version, which would be a 40 minute workshop, I had, back in 1994, come up with the idea of a ‘Sommersby’ the musical and written some tracks for it, but, with ‘Martin Guerre’ coming to the West End this idea was shelved. Some of the melodies were very memorable though so the first songs for the new musical were born. “Fight to Live” came from here and was the first song to be written. The design of the musical was simple. Make people feel what it was like to live in a time when each day you didn’t know whether you’d live to see another dawn. Create the atmosphere where you feel like the audience is there, in the prison camp. I decided that it would be an all female show, with the Governor of the camp being as if behind the audience, ‘Chorus Line’ style. This meant that all the roll calls could be faced to the audience so they would see the reaction of each of the girls. The first characters of Abby, Nell and Mary were created and the story developed. The song ‘Somewhere’ soon followed, the anthem of the piece. A year before I had written a Country track, called ‘Back Home’, which I’d hoped to pitch to Garth Brooks, but this seemed in keeping for the character of Abby, and hence the character of the American singer was born, she is the lynchpin of the show.

The July 1997 Production

And so, in 1997, with a cast of 12 the show was showcased in front of an invited audience at the Priory Theatre, in Kenilworth. Followed by a Q & A session, the overall feedback was very positive. With this in mind I decided to create the full show of Rising Sun, added some more characterisation, gave each of the girls a ‘role’ in the show and came up with the ideas that took Abby out of the circle of friends and the main protagonist of the piece. The show opened on 17th July 1998 in a baking summer’s week, which helped the atmosphere immensely as The Talisman Theatre, in Kenilworth, England had no air conditioning and received a fantastic and emotional response. The song, Somewhere, was taken on to be used in various concert shows in both the West End and outside.

The July 2009 Production

Ten years on it was the spring of 2009 when a friend of mine, the impressario Wilson Roberts, and I were talking. He was looking for a show to stage in the summer of 2009 and when I told him about Rising Sun he seemed hooked. He listened to the first gong, and song, Hell and he decided it was for him. With a new cast and a new theatre the show ran from 8th-11th July 2009 at the New Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon and was heralded with rave reviews.

The show is perfect for any group with a strong female contingent. The drama really gives the ladies something to get into, which is unusual for ladies in a musical. The songs are stirring and emotional, there is only one set, only the one costume each and therefore a perfect ‘low budget’ show for anyone to stage.