Julian Slade

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An English composer, lyricist, librettist and pianist from the 1950s through to the early 90s.
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b. 28 May 1930, London, England, d. 17 June 2006, London, England. A composer, lyricist, librettist and pianist, Slade began to write when he was at Cambridge University, and his first two musicals, The Meringue andLady May, were presented by the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Club. He then went to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and in 1952 was invited by Denis Carey to join the company as a minor role actor and musical director. In the same year he composed the music for a highly successful version of Sheridan’s The Duenna, and it was at Bristol that he met Dorothy Reynolds, a leading actress, who collaborated with him on libretto and lyrics. Their long association began with Christmas In King Street and The Merry Gentlemen, written for the Theatre Royal, Bristol, and then, in 1954, Salad Days, which transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre in London. It continued to delight audiences until 1960, becoming the longest-running British musical of its era. Slade played the piano in the pit for the first 18 months, while onstage, a magic piano in a London park caused passers-by to dance uncontrollably. The piece was typical Slade - a simple plot and inconsequential humour, accompanied by charming, hummable songs, such as ‘We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back’, ‘I Sit In The Sun’, ‘It’s Easy To Sing’, ‘The Time Of My Life’ and ‘Cleopatra’.

In 1956, The Comedy Of Errors, a comic operetta adapted from Shakespeare’s play, for which Slade wrote the music, played a season at the Arts Theatre. It had originally been performed on BBC Television two years earlier. In 1957, Slade and Reynolds wrote Free As Air, which lasted for over a year. This was succeeded by Follow That Girl, Hooray For Daisy! and Wildest Dreams, which even contained a ‘rock’ number. However, these shows seemed out of place in the theatre of the ‘angry young men’. ‘Our shows went well out of town, but London didn’t seem to want them’, Slade recalled. Vanity Fair, with lyrics by Roger Miller, faded after 70 performances at the Queen’s Theatre, and Slade’s first solo effort, Nutmeg And Ginger (1963), based on Francis Beaumont’s 1609 comedy, The Knight Of The Burning Pestle, did not play the West End. Neither did some of the others, such as The Pursuit Of Love and Out Of Bounds (1973), although Trelawny (1972) stayed at the Prince of Wales Theatre for over six months.

Slade received his warmest reviews for that show, the last time London saw his work until 1991, when a revival of his Nutmeg And Ginger opened to enthusiastic reviews on the Fringe, at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, Surrey, England. In 1997 he adapted Nancy Mitford’s novel Love In A Cold Climate.