By Arthur Tam
You might have heard that rehearsals for PROJECT AFTER 6: Cube Culture have already started and the show is debuting in May. But for those of you who haven’t, it is an original comedy musical that Taikoo Place has produced in collaboration with the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (YAF) about the farcical and duty-bound nature of being at work. The cast is made up of people who work and live in Quarry Bay, and it is part of Swire Properties’ continuous plan to transform Taikoo Place into a hub for art and culture. Currently, the cast of 32 is deep into rehearsals, practising for a series of six public shows that will begin on 11 May at ArtisTree. We catch up with UK-based music director Nick Harvey, who created the musical with Lindsey McAlister, founder of YAF.
What was the writing process like for PROJECT AFTER 6: Cube Culture?
Lindsey and I have done numerous shows together, probably into the double figures, but PROJECT AFTER 6: Cube Culture is the first one we've done in a while. It has been the most fun we’ve had together for a long time. When I’m on the piano and Lindsey is next to me there are fireworks and creative sparks between us; she’s coming up with lyrics on the spot while I’m working on melodic ideas. In the past years, she's been in Hong Kong and I’ve been in the UK, and the process has been much slower with the back and forth process. For this though, we were in the same room. We gave ourselves two weeks, and she came over and stayed near my place in the Sussex countryside. She would come over at 9 every morning from Monday through Friday, focused. I’d say we achieved more in two weeks than we might usually in six months if we did this remotely.
What’s different from PROJECT AFTER 6: Cube Culture in comparison with other musicals?
This musical is organised as a series of vignettes and sketches. And because every sketch is different, it has allowed me to experiment more than with most other musicals, which have a similar orchestration and sound throughout the show. But with this, one song might be a big ballad, the others rock, acoustic and RnB. So it was really fun for me to incorporate different genres.
What was the inspiration behind some of the songs?
The Hive, for example, is about comparing office workers to bees, so in the orchestration, I used pizzicato strings, which has a very insect quality and you can imagine things flying around and scurrying. We found that sound and then Lindsey went: ‘that sounds like an insect, bees, working bees!’.
There is also a song called It’s All About Me, about millennials. It’s got drive, character and confidence, so I was wondering what people in that age bracket listened to most and apparently, Beyonce’s Crazy in Love came up. So, I listened to that song, and i used it as a starting point.
Daily Grind is about people working 24/7 and the monotony of the workplace, so there is a lot of repetition with the verses and you get this feeling of chaos with people singing over each other. But then, you have a part with resolution and order, which is what you imagine a workplace to be.
What’s your favourite song in the whole show?
I like a good ballad, so it would have to be A Light At the End Of the Tunnel. It’s about two office workers who are lost souls but find each other and support each other. I’m really happy with the chords and it pulls at the heartstrings. Think Greatest Showman. The song is big, at moments cheesy but very emotional. I don’t think I would have written a song this overtly emotional years ago because I was a bit of music purest and snob. I love Stephen Sondheim and advanced musicality, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve been enjoying things that are a bit more simple.
Did you write the songs to accommodate a cast without professional performance experience?
No. There are some songs that are quite challenging, and I had no worries with Lindsey getting the best out of anyone, amateur or professional. In my previous work, I think I was more concerned about showing off rather than what the audience can relate to. Whereas this, I just want the audience to get it.
Are you a fan of musicals in general?
TV is my bread and butter, but what I love about musicals is the song becomes its own character instead of sitting behind the dialogue in TV. As I said, I’m a massive Sondheim fan: Sweeny Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and Assassins. I love all of these. My parents are musicians. My dad was a musical director of Sweeny Todd when I was a kid, so if I could only have one album, that would be that soundtrack. You can say that music is what I’m genetically programmed to do.
Are there any takeaways that you want the audience to have?
I just want them to be entertained because the show is very, very funny, but there will be moments of heartache too, but it will be entertaining. Most people will relate to the situations and characters and I’m confident that everyone will leave the show with the smile on their face.
Read our interview with Lindsey here to find out more about PROJECT AFTER 6: Cube Culture. Don’t forget to stay tuned on The Mag and the event page for all updates about the musical.