Strabane Has Gutz

Singer-songwriter David Oliver’s original play is a fast-paced musical about a group of young hopefuls attempting to make it in the New York business world

It takes a lot of guts to travel to New York and attempt to make it in the big bad world of business. Thankfully, composer David Oliver hasn't had to try it himself, but it is a subject, nevertheless, that has inspired him to pen an entire new musical.

The Strabane singer-songwriter, who previously played the trumpet with The Drifters, toured Ireland with his band and wrote songs for musicals and shows, has now created his first original production.

Gutz is set for the Alley Theatre stage in Strabane from June 11, and featuring a 10-piece live band and a host of Oliver’s songs, it promises to be lively affair.

Set in the Big Apple, Gutz is described as ‘an explosive, highly-charged musical exploration of the seductive, hedonistic and deceptive nature of life in a metropolis’.

The characters in the story are ‘consumed with power, ambition and ego’, and ‘themes of love, harassment, infidelity and personal struggle intertwine to reveal a story reflective of the times we now live in'.

The story centres on Kit Carson, a young woman who moves to the city with ambitions of becoming a top business professional – but of course, not everything runs smoothly in the search for success…

'It charts the life of a group of interns over the course of a year in New York City,' says Oliver. 'It’s about the trials and tribulations they encounter, about leaving home and facing all sorts of issues, although it’s not a traditional leaving home story per se.'

As a father of two daughters, having strong female characters in his work is something that is particularly important to Oliver, and Gutz has six.

Indeed, rather refreshingly for the world of showbiz, Oliver is keen to go against the cliché when it comes to casting women. They do more, after all, than just fall in love all the time, and are deserving of much meatier storylines.

'A lot of scripts I’ve worked on in the past have been quite patronising, especially to women,' Oliver reveals. 'I have two daughters now. I also have three sisters and a wife. Generally speaking, I try to make women the leads in my shows. I’m very driven by women’s stories and the problems they encounter in life. For example, you still have the glass ceiling in the business world.'

There is also a reason why he chose New York for his setting, as opposed to somewhere closer to home.

'America still has an allure for people. And the storyline revolves around the financial district, not quite Wall Street, but not a million miles away from it either, so it had to be in a big city. With the cosmopolitan feel of New York, you can also get away with a diverse bunch of songs.'

Indeed, Oliver has stuffed Gutz with all sorts of music. Having accumulated a healthy amount of songs over the years, he has subsequently used this material, along with some fresh new pieces, to create the show.

Oliver decided to write Gutz himself having realised that a lot of the scripts for many of the productions he had been commissioned to work on were good, but lacked that certain something. With this in mind, the composer determined to create his own show, using his songs as the building blocks for the story.

'The last few shows I’ve worked on have been jukebox musicals,' Oliver explains. 'I found the scripts were okay, but they weren’t like the big musicals. I thought, if these are working, then why not give it a go, so I went through my own music.

'A lot of my songs are from times in my life when key events occurred, so they’re songs with real meaning and heart and soul. Then I thought, I need a storyline. I had the music and I just built the script around it.'

This novel way of writing the production means that Gutz isn’t a traditional musical – the audience should expect more commercial-type songs. 'Songs for the people in the street,' as Oliver puts it.

As well as his recent theatre credits, Oliver – who studied music at Queen's University and later acquired his PGCE – spent years writing for his own band, as well as for other artists, penning pop, rock and classical tunes. 

Gutz is sure to pique the interest of many, therefore. For those keen on musical trivia, look out for the composer popping up on stage himself in the house band in a nightclub scene.

Although the production will enjoy its first ever run at the Alley Theatre in June, there is the potential, says Oliver, for adapting it for other venues, and also for schools.

Gutz runs is at the Alley Arts Centre, Strabane from June 11-13.