5 Minutes with writer and composer Graeme Webber



The riotous new musical Fire on the River, which is set during the Great Fire of London in 1666, will illuminate the history books with music, song and dance from 6-30 October at three theatres in Auckland: Glen Eden’s Playhouse, Papatoetoe’s Spotlight and Takapuna’s Pumphouse. Historic characters and first hand on-the-spot accounts from London diarists are woven into the narrative and accompanied by 28 musical numbers spanning genres and generations! Verve chats to producer and composer, Graeme John Webber.


Fire on the River is a courageous and inspiring undertaking. What motivated you to put this production together?

The conceptual idea came about in 2004 while staying with a friend in London. I had an intention to write a musical based on some aspect I might see on my travels. There were countless interesting subjects but the one that fired me up within days of returning to New Zealand was the Great Fire of London 1666 — details of which appear on a plinth at the base of Sir Christopher Wren’s monument. Research and family life delayed writing which took time, but finally — on the 350th Anniversary of the great Fire — it’s ready for production.


Tell us a little more about yourself, your life story in a nutshell and what gets your heart pumping.

I grew up in a musical family; my aunts and uncles all sang and played, and my father had a 40s band, The Snappy Six. I played in a 70s cover band the Music Convention. I along with members of the band wrote backing music for Andy MacAlpine’s iconic 70s movie, Children of the Sun, and recorded songs with RCA. Endless gig’s around Auckland over many years, residencies at Villa Maria’s Cordova Lounge, The Lodge, Westend Rowing Club (Brian Everitt), and the Auckland Leagues Club. The Band played on summer cruises around the Pacific Islands on P&O ships, Orcades, Oriana, Orsova, Himalaya. That was a dreamtime — great days.


If you had to choose three stage shows that you could see again and again, which would they be?

I love music and musicals. My three favourites stage shows are — Miss Saigon, Camelot and Hair.


Tell us more about the story.

It’s boy meets girl at Queenhithe Market near the River Thames on the eve of the Great Fire of London 1666. The fire strikes at 2am 2 Sept at Farriner’s Bakery, Pudding Lane. Theirs and other relationships are brought to the fore as the Great Fire rages all around. Historic characters and actual on-the-spot accounts from London Diarists are woven into the narrative. The relationships that work their way through are wonderful.


Live music is an integral part of the show. Can you give some detail around this topic?

I have a wide ranging taste from classical to pop and for a long time thought about one day writing a musical myself. Music styles range from period sounding harpsichord to up-tempo rock ‘n’ roll, from ballad to rap/hip-hop, from waltz to jazz and a section where the dialogue and verse is set to music.


Fire On The River