How 'Unofficial Bridgerton Musical' beat Broadway at the Grammys

When the lyricist-composer duo behind “ Bridgerton’s Unofficial Musical » took to the stage on Sunday to accept their Grammy for Best M...


When the lyricist-composer duo behind “Bridgerton’s Unofficial Musical » took to the stage on Sunday to accept their Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, the list of people they wanted to thank didn’t start with a record label or a producer, but with their social media followers.

“We want to thank everyone online who watched us create this album from scratch,” noted Abigail Barlow, who sings for over a dozen different characters on the album. “We share this with you.”

Last year Barlow watched the first season of Netflix sassy period drama on Regency England’s elite marriage market, along with millions of others looking for escapist entertainment during the pandemic. A 22-year-old budding pop singer with a large TikTok following, she posted a song she wrote with a simple but, she thought, promising premise: “What if ‘Bridgerton’ was a musical?”

As the spark for an idea began to germinate, she enlisted the help of a collaborator, Emily Bear, a 19-year-old songwriter and musician who had been introduced to the world as 6-year-old piano prodigy but hoped to prove itself as more than just an old show for daytime talk shows.

The pair began to build what would eventually amount to a 15-song album that includes a love duet between the star couple of the series, a comic solo for the show’s maverick tomboy and an opening number they wrote with a lavishly dressed Broadway ensemble fluttering around the stage in their heads.

Bear produced and orchestrated the album herself, using her computer and an electronic keyboard to create the sound of a full symphony orchestra.

On Sunday, with around six years of experience writing musicals between them, the Gen Z songwriting duo beat a list of Grammy nominees which included Andrew Lloyd Webber “Cinderella”; by Conor McPhersonDaughter of the North Country, built around the songs of Bob Dylan; and one Musical comedy by Stephen Schwartz.

“It’s hard to fully comprehend — like, we did it from our bedrooms,” Barlow said in an interview Monday.

“In my head, there was no way that was going to happen,” Bear added. “We just wanted to release the album for people who went through the whole process.”

And there was a parcel of these people, weighing in from all corners of the internet theater lover. Barlow and Bear were livestreaming their songwriting sessions from Los Angeles, inviting fans to weigh in. Followers shared ideas for staging and choreographyPlaybill designsviral videos of them singing half a duet and even a pitch to be the show’s intimacy coordinator.

TikTok videos have been approved by Julia Quinn, the author of the “Bridgerton” books that inspired the TV series; the actors of the show; and Netflix, which gave Barlow and Bear’s attorneys the green light to turn their songs into an album, the duo said.

The original videos stay on TikTok, and the independently produced album is on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services, but the musical has yet to be staged. (That’s far from the norm for the musical theater albums category, which is usually for big Broadway musicals like “Hamilton,” “Jersey Boys” and “The Lion King.”)

Speaking on a video call from their hotel rooms in Las Vegas, where the Grammys took place, Barlow, now 23, and Bear, 20, discussed the unexpected success of their album, their practice of creatively collaborating with fans and the direction of their career (starting with a Broadway musical they can’t discuss yet). Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Abigail, what made you want to make it a musical in “Bridgerton”?

BARLOW The opening scene is so theatrical. I could just see every part of the scene light up in my brain. And then I kept writing lines of dialogue that sounded like song titles. The phrase “far from the ocean” was the first that made me run to my piano.

Where were you each before this happened in your lives?

BARLOW We were both really depressed. It’s hard to break into the music industry, and I was ready to give up. I was applying for jobs as a receptionist at a record company and I was crying to my parents because they helped support me in LA and they were like, “You have to get a real job. We can no longer help you. It was a very difficult decision to try to pursue him once again.

BEAR We said to ourselves: “Did we choose the wrong career? I feel like we were releasing good music but nobody was listening to us, nobody was taking us seriously.

Then suddenly you create a musical that gets a ton of public engagement and videos that get millions of likes on TikTok. It’s a form of endorsement, but what’s it like to have that form of institutional endorsement from the Grammys?

BEAR Powerful cadres follow what the people want. Sure, it feels good when someone who brushed you off for the exact same music you were writing two years ago now wants to buy it. But it’s more than that. We want to make room for all the other amazing female – and not just female – composers who love their craft.

Some artists might bristle at your strategy of inviting fan feedback as you create the work, leaving it open to significant audience influence midway through the creative process.

BARLOW I’ve been broadcasting live while singing and writing songs for an audience since I was a teenager. It’s like a muscle; the more you do it, the better you get at it. Emily is classically trained and incredibly educated in her craft. I’m not, so it was just kind of my process to get an audience’s perspective on what they thought and how I could improve.

BEAR If you think about it, it was like we were working instantly in the studio. We were getting live feedback in real time for people who would come to the show or buy the album.

Do you think you will continue this way now that you have this institutional approval?

BARLOW We’d love to, but we have exciting plans after “Bridgerton” gave us a foot in the door and we still have to keep quiet.

BEAR Which is totally against our MO, and it’s kind of frustrating because as we’re writing this music, we want to share it with everyone. What better way to publicize a project than to get people involved early? By the time it comes out, they know the music, they feel invested, they were there when it happened.

And you did “Bridgerton” without a label?

BARLOW In the beginning, when it started to blow up, we had a few conversations with labels, but none of it sounded good. We knew we wanted to capitalize on the moment, and we knew the sooner we released it, the better.

BEAR We would have had an orchestra and a cast, and that would have taken a lot of time and a lot of money. And why sign a label deal and not own all of our masters and editions? We were like, huh, let’s get it out ourselves. And I remember the night the album came out and we saw it go up the charts. We had fans constantly bugging us to get the album out, so we knew we’d get listeners, but I didn’t really expect that.

What is the probability that the musical will be staged?

BEAR It’s a bit out of our backyard because we don’t own the intellectual property. We think it would go perfectly on stage. We see it so clearly. Netflix, you know where to find us.

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