'Soldier of Orange':
It's the 'Hamilton' of the Netherlands - Los Angeles Times
As the show begins, the entire seat platform starts to rotate, stopping in front of one of 10 stationary stages along a 180-degree panorama. A large, synchronized panel slides open to reveal a handsome Dutch college student being chased by Nazis across a 196-foot-wide beach with real sand and pouring rain. Music is pounding. Planes fly over in an animated sky as machine guns blast away at our hero. He dives into the 80,000 gallons of water on set and escapes into the North Sea.
This is “Soldaat van Oranje” (“Soldier of Orange”), which is celebrating its sixth straight year of sellout shows. The production marked its 2,000th performance on Nov. 19 and has proved to be such an effective immersive-theater experience, its creators said, some patrons have returned a dozen times.
One of the surprises with this, the most successful show in Dutch history, is that key members of the creative team are not from the Netherlands but rather Los Angeles. Lyricist Pamela Phillips-Oland and composer Tom Harriman, both Angelenos, were recruited to write the music based on the true-life story of Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema.
A member of the Dutch resistance and air force fighter during World War II, Hazelhoff, as he was known, and friends are forced to make life-and-death decisions during the German occupation of their country in “Soldier of Orange.” The story is told through Oland and Harriman’s music and choreography by Los Angeles native Sarah Miles de Levita.
“The idea was to make it an international show,” said Harriman, who had collaborated with Oland on another Dutch project, that one about Vincent Van Gogh. Together they mined Hazelhoff’s memoirs for inspiration.
“We wanted it to be timeless,” said Oland, who previously worked with Frank Sinatra as his lyricist on the songs “Monday Morning Quarterback” and “Barbara.” Dutch actors recorded several songs in Harriman’s Studio City studio.
The immersive staging — something of the inverse of “Les Misérables,” in which a stationary audience watches action on a rotating stage — includes hanger doors that dramatically open to reveal an authentic DC3 Dakota aircraft taxiing inside. The exiled Queen Wilhelmina steps out to a cheering, liberated Netherlands.
The audience is rotated toward stages with other scenes: a ballroom, the Queen’s palace, colossal sand dunes, a German interrogation cell. Six projectors display vintage newsreel footage and dogfight sequences on four large cinema screens that move simultaneously with the audience.
“It was the most exciting musical in my life,” said American theater producer Pat Addiss, who attended the six-year anniversary in October.
This new, purpose-built theater system, called SceneAround, was created by Tony Award-winning Dutch producer Robin de Levita, choreographer Sarah’s husband.
“We had been looking around for a theater space that was connected to the war and found this empty antique airplane hanger,” producer Fred Boot said. It was Robin de Levita who then said, “Why don’t we put the audience in the middle and build the scenery around it?”
Boot had been dreaming of staging a musical based on the Dutch war hero since 1993. Years later, he finally met Hazelhoff, who had immigrated to America in 1952 and was living in Hawaii. Although a film adaptation had been made of his wartime experience — the 1977 Oscar-nominated “Soldier of Orange,” directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Rutger Hauer — Hazelhoff gave Boot his blessing.
“Soldier of Orange” has received the Dutch equivalent of the Tony for best musical, and the cast album reached No. 7 on the Dutch pop charts.
“Every major Dutch actress of a certain age has played the Queen,” Oland said of the coveted role.
While producers search for a location near London to stage the musical, the question remains: Would the British — or Americans — embrace “Soldier of Orange” with the same enthusiasm as the Dutch? And is this cutting-edge theater experience the way of the future?
“It’s not affordable here,” Addiss said. “Not all shows are meant to be spectacular or over the top.”
Amerborgh International, the management company that financed the “Soldier of Orange” project in 2007, recouped its initial $10-million-plus production costs in less than a year. “It has proven to be a good economic model by being cheaper than building a whole new conventional theater, which can cost anywhere from $42 to $84 million” Boot said. “By using an existing building and adjusting it to the concept of SceneAround, we were able to produce the show relatively cheaply.”
Boot is already working on his next project, which may be closer to the heart and history of Americans: a musical based on author Russell Shorto’s 2005 book, “The Island at the Center of the World,” about the early Dutch settlement of Manhattan in 1625.
Lyricist Pamela Phillips Oland‘s break was becoming Frank Sinatra’s last lyricist when he recorded “Monday Morning Quarterback” and commissioned her to write “Barbara” for his wife. Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Selena, Anne Murray, Peabo Bryson, Reba McIntyre, The Jacksons, and Gladys Knight are just a few artists who’ve recorded 3X-Grammy-nominated Oland’s songs, which have also been featured dozens of times on film & TV, including the opening and ending title of 102 Dalmatians. The author of 2 books on lyric writing, The Art of Writing Great Lyrics and The Art of Writing Love Songs (both published by Allworth Press), she is a popular guest speaker with songwriter groups worldwide, and taught at UCLA Extension for 8 years. Her several current releases include charting songs with Britain’s Got Talent‘s Charlie Green and Argentine jazz sensation Karen Souza. Soldier of Orange, her hit musical with Tom Harriman and scriptwriter Edwin DeVries, is Holland’s most successful original musical ever, with ticket sales approaching one million. In addition to many new record co-writes, she is co-creating Real Women Have Curves: The Musical, with Harriman and Josefina Lopez, popular author of the autobiographical film and play. Pamela is currently completing her first novel. Visit Pamela on the web at www.pamoland.com.
Composer Tom Harriman‘s music credentials encompass songwriting, film & TV scoring, arranging, orchestration, music production, engineering and mixing. Tom’s hundreds of TV & film scores have included Popular, Baywatch, Civil Wars, Flipper and Bratz. His songs have been featured in such shows as The Sopranos, The West Wing, and Autumn in New York. An Emmy-winner, he most recently directed and scored the Van Gogh audio book Struggle & Success, directing the audio appearances of Dame Helen Mirren and Julian Holloway. Tom has toured or recorded with David Pack, Richard Carpenter, Natalie Cole, David Lee Roth, Phil Collins, and Megadeath guitar virtuoso Marty Friedman. Such artists as Julio Iglesias, Mari Hamada, & Carl Anderson have recorded his songs. He composed and co-created with lyricist Pamela Phillips-Oland, the musical Soldier of Orange – now in its 26th sold-out month in Amsterdam – for which he also wrote the score. He is currently co-creating with Oland and book writer Josefina Lopez, the stage musical for Real Woman Have Curves. An accomplished drummer, keyboardist, vocalist and violinist, Tom was a solo recording artist on Fun House Records / BMG. Having worked in a wide variety of styles, he is known for his ability to innovate and create cutting-edge music in a multitude of genres. Tom resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, all of whom are in the entertainment industry.
and Tom Harriman
on Soldier of Orange
By Tim Hayes, ASCAP Associate Director, Marketing & Communications
Songwriting partners Pamela Phillips Oland and Tom Harriman – both members of ASCAP – have seen massive success overseas. Together, they crafted the music for the most successful musical in Holland’s history, Soldaat van Oranje (or Soldier of Orange, the Musical). With over 650,000 tickets sold and a cast album that went to #7 on the Dutch pop charts, the award-winning show is showing no signs of slowing down. I recently spoke with the duo about their hit musical, their upcoming projects, their involvement with ASCAP and more. Check out all they have to say below.
PPO: It’s a dynamic tale of Holland’s most admired WWII hero, Erik Hazelhoff, and his 5 college frat brothers, and the Queen (Wilhelmena)! Erik was a handsome young student with a great future when Hitler broke their Treaty of Neutrality by occupying the Netherlands. All bets were off!
TH: Not only is it a truly captivating story, but the entire experience of watching the show will blow your mind. The theatre was created in an old airplane hanger, with an 1100-seat audience turntable that takes you from scene to scene; one of our favorites being the “ocean.” As the audience revolves to their next destination the walls slide open revealing a real beachhead with sand dunes, a pier and 380,000 cubic liters of water.
Can you talk a little about what it was like composing music and writing lyrics that you knew would later be translated from English to Dutch?
TH: At first it was just Pamela and myself – there was no director nor book writer on board at that point. That gave us total freedom to write what we wanted to write and develop the scenes we envisioned in our heads. And remarkably, many of those early songs and scenes remain unchanged in the show today.
PPO: I never worried about the translations into Dutch. I simply wrote my best work I knew how. We wrote it as if it were going to be performed in America, and did the demos in English.
TH: Even in the Dutch auditions the actors sang in English. It wasn’t until the cast was set that the translations were made. That itself presented its own set of challenges. Have you ever tried singing a consonant and holding it for 2 measures? Obviously, changes were necessary!
The Soldier of Orange cast album reached No. 7 on the Dutch pop charts. What do you think it is about the show’s music that resonates so positively with the Dutch?
TH: At first the music didn’t resonate so positively, there was a lot of criticism saying that the music wasn’t what the Dutch were used to, that it was too American. But through the success of the show, the Dutch public has really given it a chance and embraced our work.
PPO: We felt very motivated by the Dutch nationalistic pride, and we worked very hard to honor it in our writing.
Is World War II and/or the story of Resistance hero Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema something you have a personal connection with? How much research went into crafting the music?
PPO: I grew up in London hearing all about the war, WWII was like a 4th person who lived in all British homes; there was so much discussion about how it was to live through it. My Dad was a musician – he had led a swing band for the RAF [Royal Air Force]! My Mum had stories of sleeping on underground train platforms during air raids, and buzz bombs whistling past. A bomb exploded while they were walking to the movies when they were dating. A piece of shrapnel whizzed past her head and lodged in a wall, and he dug it out with his penknife. His whole life, Dad used it tied to a chamois he cleaned his clarinet with.
PPO: I went to meet Erik Hazelhoff in Kona where he lived with his lovely wife Karin. He became very enthusiastic about the musical. Sadly, he died before we opened. But he gave me and Tom some wonderful insights and feedback, and he had a great sense of humor.
TH: I want to give credit here to the person who introduced us to Erik. At the beginning of pre-production, Diederick Van Eck – one of the show’s initiators – arranged for us to come to Holland for a sort of “crash course” in Dutch history. He was an out-of-the-box thinker who felt the producers needed to use American writers to give the show a more universal approach. He brought them to LA to meet us. They liked our ideas.
Pamela, you have attended and participated at a number of our annual ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPOs. Can you tell us about your experience at the EXPO and the value to both you as we’ll as attendees?
PPO: EXPO is a wonderful, well-planned conference, filled with industry movers-and-shakers, lots of booths with great music-related products. Just walking along, or sitting at a panel discussion, you never know who you will bump into and strike up a friendship with. For me, EXPO is a way to stay connected and to help and uplift upcoming writers.
TH: I’m a longtime ASCAP writer. Earlier in my career I was fortunate enough to be invited to the ASCAP Pop and Composer workshops, and now 25 years later – keeping the tradition going – my daughter Julia has joined ASCAP.
Have you continued to be in touch with any of your One-on-One Sessions from the EXPO?
PPO: From time to time one of them reaches out to me on Facebook. I always love working one-on-one with the writers. We cram a lot in our 15-minute sessions, and they tell me they are extremely grateful! One or two have remarked: “This alone was worth coming for!”
Are there any success stories you could share about EXPO attendees you mentored in those Sessions?
PPO: I came up with specific projects for some of these writers to undertake. General advice about the business wasn’t why they came to EXPO, they wanted a path to making it; a magic bullet. One talented rocker lived in a small town with his family and needed to make it work “where he was.” He was desperate for advice. I told him to write a show, a rock musical – complete with a storyline based on who he was and what he said to me. I advised that he do a premiere for a local charity, get on TV and sell tickets for the charity. He was thrilled! Another time, I had a one-on-one with a woman who was a bit shy, and had a good but not “lead” voice. I advised her to form a group à la the Andrews Sisters, costumes and everything, and do shows all over her city. She knew just the right girls and couldn’t wait to follow through!
Can you offer any specific advice to songwriters and/or composers on breaking into the musical theater world? Were there any valuable lessons you’ve learned working on such a tremendously successful musical?
TH: We have been very fortunate that we had such a success overseas, and we are still working on getting it produced on this side of the Pond. But as far as advice goes – I’d say, think outside the box – and if all else fails, re-write!
PPO: Advice? Attend the ASCAP/Disney workshops! Thanks to ASCAP’s Michael Kerker, I attended several, and they were incredibly useful in teaching me the essential ins and outs of what works in musical theater. I’ve always loved musicals and have written 12 of them, starting when I was 18. Some had small productions and workshops, most ended up in the drawer. Why did I do them? To learn how. “Preparation-meets-Opportunity.” Only by doing it can you learn. The most important tips: Listen to the Director, be flexible and be a team player. And oh by the way, did we mention re-writing?