U of U to Present National Premiere of “The Beautiful Game”


Courtesy U of U Theatre Department

The cast of “The Beautiful Game”

By Josh Petersen, Digital Managing Editor

The University of Utah Department of Theatre is continuing their 2017-2018 season with the opportunity to present the United States premiere of “The Beautiful Game.” The musical, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics and book by Ben Elton, premiered on West End in 2000 but has never seen an official United States production.

“The Beautiful Game” is set during The Troubles, a civil conflict in Northern Ireland that divided the region’s Protestant and Catholic populations in the late 1960’s. The musical follows the young men on a Catholic soccer team and details their coming-of-age. The characters wrestle with the implications of the conflict: some feel compelled to join, others see it as an unfortunate disruption and some are torn between their political beliefs and their desire to continue in soccer.

Though you likely have not heard of “The Beautiful Game,” you may be familiar with the work of its composer. Andrew Lloyd Webber has written some of the most popular musicals of all time, including “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Cats” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Lloyd Webber’s work has been incredibly influential in the musical theater world for decades. With this production, Salt Lake audiences have their first chance to see a lesser-known work from this prolific artist.

This production is the product of collaboration between students and U faculty members. Students’ work has been an integral part in developing this show. Cast member Mary Nikols said, “We bring our ideas into characters and scenes … It’s always great to have that conversation with your director and other cast mates, and to really just be in [that] world.” Behind the scenes, director Denny Berry has enlisted student talent to help bring the show to life. Jesse Klick, a recent graduate of the U’s Musical Theatre Program, choreographed the production. Student AllyShea Sexton serves as assistant director, and the stage management team is entirely student-run. The production aims to give students opportunities to be deeply involved in the process of bringing this show to the stage.

In the program note from the original 2000 production, lyricist and book writer Ben Elton wrote, “Although this is an Irish story, taking place in Belfast—a brave big-hearted city that I know well, having performed there many times—I hope that the themes and sentiments of ‘The Beautiful Game’ are universal.” Nikols agrees that the musical will be relevant for audience members. She sees parallels between the historical events depicted in “The Beautiful Game” and many political conflicts and social problems in 2018. “People are really going to connect with the characters. They all bring something special to this piece…People are really going to learn from this show and witness what these kids went through during this time.”

“The Beautiful Game” will be performed from February 16-18, 22-25, and March 1-4 at 7:30 p.m., with matinees on February 24-25 and March 3-4 at 2:00 p.m. A panel discussion led by faculty member Mark Fossen will be held after the performance on February 23, and a discussion with the cast and creative team will be held after the show on March 2. All performances will be held at the Babcock Theatre. Tickets are free for U of U students. The show contains explicit content and is only recommended for mature patrons ages 14 and up. For more information, visit theatre.utah.edu.