Victoria pair’s Napoleon going to New York


Napoleon is poised to invade New York City.

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The original mega-musical, created by Victoria native Andrew Sabiston and his friend Timothy Williams, was the largest-ever Canadian production when it played Toronto in 1994 on a $5-million budget. Napoleon went on to play London’s West End in 2000, where it ran for four months.

A smaller, revamped version of Napoleon will play five performances at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in mid-July, Williams said. The musical is now being cast, with set and costumes in construction.

“Our whole approach was to really scale it down,” said Williams, a 49-year old composer based in Los Angeles. “We just wanted to get down to the basic story and create something that was hopefully riveting from beginning to end.”

The festival became interested in Napoleon when a representative saw a 2009 concert staging in Barrie, Ont. Directed by Richard Ouzounian, the production starred Adam Brazier and Blythe Wilson.

That 2009 version was a complete rewrite of the West End show. Sabiston, who wrote the original book, reimagined the musical so that it’s told from the point of view of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord. Commonly known as “Talleyrand,” he was a contemporary of Napoleon Bonaparte and was renowned for his Machiavellian tactics.

“It’s like a rock manager and a rock star, how he built [Napoleon] up. All the dark wheelings and dealings behind the scenes of what took place,” Williams said.

The upcoming adaptation of Napoleon, which is similar to the Barrie version, will use “a couple of musicians” and a cast of about 12. The score features both new music and old songs from the West End show.

Williams has written music for such films as Guardians of the Galaxy, Ben Kingsley’s Walking with the Enemy and Robert Duvall’s Wild Horses, which premièred last month at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Sabiston, 50, is a Toronto-based animation voice actor who writes and edits for children’s television. The son of Victoria artist Carole Sabiston, he met Williams when the pair attended St. Michaels University School.

The West End production of Napoleon was staged at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre, with a cast of 36 and a 26-member orchestra. It attracted audiences, but drew mixed reviews from British critics.

Williams said the best-case scenario for the new Napoleon would be getting it picked up by regional producers who see it in New York. If that happens, a Broadway production would “absolutely” be a possibility.

“This is a version we really like. It’s a much edgier, more interesting version . . . it becomes this very intimate, very powerful theatre,” Williams added.

“We’re excited about it — it’s a lot of fun you know. And now we can bring all this experience to bear to tell the story we’ve always wanted to tell.”

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