As evidenced by the recent unearthing of Anthony Burgess’ treasure trove of unpublished stories, scripts, and compositions, the late author was something of a Renaissance man—and that extends to his handily predicting the future of theater, when original works have all but been overtaken by musicals based on old movies and TV shows. Burgess was ahead of the trend as early as the ’80s, when he personally adapted A Clockwork Orange into a musical that will finally see performance next year in Manchester, as part of a 50th anniversary celebration of the novel. In the words of Andrew Biswell, director of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the musical is “a kind of revisioning” created by Burgess to reclaim the book from Stanley Kubrick’s film version, and the description certainly bears that out.
For example, Biswell points to a scene concerning a prisoner being kicked to death, which Burgess’ musical turns into something “very throwaway and jolly.” In fact, he compares the whole thing to “pretty close to West Side Story—that’s one of the obvious influences on it.” And if that sounds unlikely, even given Biswell’s probable dry British wit, it’s nothing compared to the version that Burgess himself was forced to endure (with or without eye-clamps) in 1990, when the Royal Shakespeare Company staged his musical, but swapped in songs from Bono and The Edge, resulting in a score that Burgess reportedly dismissed as “neo-wallpaper.” Having his cultishly adored characters turned into an overblown yet bland failed musical by Bono and The Edge? Burgess really was ahead of his time.