Paul McCartney is almost done with the score of his first theatrical musical, an adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. In a post on McCartney’s website, producer Bill Kenwright says he reached out to Capra to get the rights to adapt the movie into a musical years ago and received “a lovely handwritten letter” from Capra—turning him down. Decades later, Kenwright was offered the rights while working on a project with Paramount, and he approached fellow Liverpudlian McCartney in 2016. Tony Award–winning Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall is writing the musical’s book.
After some delays, McCartney has been quietly working on the project since at least 2018, according to Kenwright, intermittently emailing the producer with new demos and musical ideas. After scoring an early listen to the demos, the New York Post’s Johnny Oleksinski says the unfinished tracks he heard qualify as a “bona fide lost Beatles album.”
McCartney, Hall, and Kenwright’s musical won’t be the first attempt to adapt Capra’s film for the stage. The previous attempt in 1991 came from Fiddler on the Roof composer Sheldon Harnick and Sesame Street songwriter Joe Raposo but was met with mixed reviews—one critic noted that the production was maybe too ambitious, over-packed with songs, and that the roller-skating angels left audiences too concerned about the “physical welfare” of the performers—and failed to make it to Broadway. More recently the film was adapted as an opera, which played last year in San Francisco.
While It’s a Wonderful Life will be McCartney’s first foray into writing original songs for musical theater, the Beatles jukebox musical Let It Be, described by the Guardian as “necrophilic nostalgia,” began in 2012 and continues to tour. And who could forget McCartney’s 1984 musical film Give My Regards to Broad Street?
As every musical theater fan knows, the show’s success will depend on how the whole production—not just the music—comes together. We’ll find out in 2020, when this British musical adaptation of an American movie and Christmas staple (and suspected Communist propaganda film) is scheduled to finally hit the stage.