Take That's biggest hit in the U.S. was "Back for Good." Trust us, if you lived through the '90s, you know it. Credit: Thomas Lohnes/Redferns via Getty Images
For Gary Barlow, walking around the streets of Cambridge is a refreshing experience. Here, he’s Gary Barlow, co-songwriter for the American Repertory Theater’s new musical, “Finding Neverland.” But back home in the U.K., he’s Gary Barlow, founding member of the massively popular ‘90s boy band Take That.
“We call ourselves a man band now,” says Barlow with a smile. For whatever cross-cultural reason, Take That never took off as a phenomenon here the way it did in the U.K., where it launched the career of Robbie Williams, but Barlow appreciates the opportunity for a little anonymity while he’s here. He’s in town with songwriting partner Eliot Kennedy to put the final touches on the music they’ve written for “Neverland.” The duo has been working together since the early ‘90s, and were recruited by none other than famed producer Harvey Weinstein to help out with the production.
“He said, ‘We finished the musical, but we’re short of one song.’ So I said, ‘oh great, let’s see the show,’ and of course one song led to two songs, three songs … we’ve replaced every song so it’s completely our soundtrack now,” says Barlow.
Don’t go in expecting to hear typical musical song, though. Kennedy and Barlow stuck to what they know.
“I think we tried to write one song where we thought, ‘Oh, it sounds really musical theater! And Diane [Paulus, A.R.T.’s artistic director] hated it. So we just went back to writing three and a half minute pop songs,” says Kennedy.
The musical, like the movie of the same name, follows the story of J.M. Barrie and his fateful meeting with the Llewelyn Davies family, which inspired his famous stories of Peter Pan.
The songwriting process has gone on for the last 18 months, with the pair trading songs and lyrics back and forth before even seeing a script, and revising as needed according to how the show was going. Kennedy says he enjoyed writing about Captain Hook the most. But for Barlow, the character that resonated with him the most was J.M. Barrie himself, who Kennedy jokes that they call “J.M. Gary” for his similarity to Barlow.
“I’m not going to at all compare myself to J.M. Barrie and his talent, but when you’re a creative person, those insecurities — God, how well do we know that. It resonates I think with you as a writer as well. How your life can become your job and what you think, whether you like it or not,” says Barlow.
For Kennedy, writing for other people, whether they’re in a musical or not, has been his whole career. Besides writing for Barlow and Take That, he also wrote the Spice Girls hit “Say You’ll Be There,” and the group even lived in his house prior to making it big. Sounding mystified, Kennedy says, “I couldn’t keep enough toilet roll in the house.” Of course, the big question is, who was the best house guest? Easy, he says, it was Mel C, also known as Sporty Spice.
“Mel C. was a good house guest. She makes cracking tea and she would tidy up,” he confirms.
If you go Through September 28 Loeb Drama Center 64 Brattle St., Cambridge $25-$85 www.americanrepertorytheater.org