2 October, 2019
Loss of a Devonport friend brings musical to life
The composer of a Kiwi musical found the motivation to get it finished and on-stage following news of a close Devonport friend’s premature death. Chris Williams, a pianist, has a busy life running an advertising agency and being the father of four children. But news of Gordon (Gordie) Clarke’s illness eight years ago galvanised him into seeing through his musical, State Highway 48. “I was close to finishing writing it.
We were on a family holiday in New York in 2011, when Gordon’s sister-in-law called me to let me know they had discovered he had a brain tumour.” Williams was right next to a Broadway Theatre when he heard the news, which helped prompt him to complete and stage his musical. “I started saying to people, ‘If you are going to write a book or a play or cycle across the Southern Alps, there’s no time like now to get on and do it, because you don’t know what’s around the corner.’” Clarke, who had lived in Devonport since 1996, died in October 2013, aged 51. A year later, State Highway 48 launched in Williams’ hometown of Hamilton, where he dedicated the season to Clarke.
Williams’ friendship with Clarke, an advertising creative director, was initially forged through working together, then cemented through having children around the same ages. After Williams bought an agency in Hamilton in 1991, he says he saw more of Clarke, who continued to do work for him. Williams recalls Clarke’s sense of humour and acute powers of observation, which he was channelling into writing screenplays and books in his own time. His illness and death meant he didn’t see those projects produced or published.
“I started saying to people, ‘If you are going to write a book or a play or cycle across the Southern Alps, there’s no time like now to get on and do it, because you don’t know what’s around the corner.”
That inspired Williams, who had composed the music for his musical project, to go through the arduous process of writing the State Highway 48 script, and finding a producer and director to help him stage it. He wrote in bursts when inspiration struck, making sure notebooks and his laptop were nearby at all times. The musical, a black comedy about a family going through change, during a recession – and with the black dog of depression played by an actor –toured the country two years ago and is now having its first run in Auckland.
This article originally appeared in the September 20 edition of the Devonport Flagstaff. Download PDF.