Brian Johnson is writing music and lyrics these days, but not for AC/DC or any other rock band. He’s working with British composer Brendan Healy and Sarasota Ballet Artistic Director Robert de Warren on a musical called “Helen of Troy,” an action-filled love story based on Greek mythology.
While in past years Johnson has specialized in penning naughty double-entendres in songs like “Hard as a Rock,” “Stiff Upper Lip” and “The Honey Roll,” this time he’s crafting music that’s more in line with the dramatic musical “Les MisÃ©rables.”
So far, he’s written 14 songs for the production, which will debut in March 2003 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, Florida. After a nine-show run, “Helen of Troy” will tour Florida, and if all goes well a national tour will follow.
The $1.2 million show features five singing roles, a chorus of 15 and a dancing troupe of 15, which includes jugglers, acrobats and fire eaters. There’s also a narrator that plays Zeus. That part will likely go to Johnson’s friend Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”), said de Warren, adding that Jerry Springer has also expressed interest in the role.
Johnson started working on “Helen of Troy” six years ago, but the show really started coming to fruition in 1990 when a friend introduced him to de Warren. The singer brought the ballet director a CD of the tracks he’d been working on and the two bandied around ideas. When it was clear they were on the same page, Johnson asked de Warren to choreograph.
AC/DC fans take heed: “Helen of Troy” may feature giant cannons, but there won’t be any blaring power chords or shrieked vocals.
“It’s not at all based in rock,” de Warren said. “It’s rather like Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s very British, actually. There’s a lot of very beautiful melodies, and it’s amazing how literate [Brian] is, which is quite unusual for a rock star.”
Johnson’s publicist confirmed his participation in “Helen of Troy” but said the singer thought it was too early to talk about the show.