Music & Lyrics Steven Fisher

Book Joan Ross Sorkin & Steven Fisher






In The Theatre is a backstage musical based on the remarkable life of Joan Littlewood, the brash, larger-than-life, anti-establishment British director/producer who changed the course of twentieth-century theatre with her creation of the experimental Theatre Workshop. Though Joan’s life appeared hugely successful, it was filled with hurt and disappointment. Joan’s stormy relationship with her mother and playwright Shelagh Delaney, whom she treated as a daughter, contributed to the blind determination and obsessiveness that marked her life. The musical becomes the vehicle to tell her personal story — a story of mothers and daughters — of gaining and losing one’s children — of not loving them enough or perhaps loving them too much.


Joan and her company of actors return from the dead to dramatize her life to prove that Theatre Workshop (meaning Joan) was denied the credit it deserved for A Taste of Honey, a play credited to Shelagh Delaney, the young playwright whom Joan treated like a daughter.  In telling her story Joan champions “live theatre” by using the very theatrical devices Theatre Workshop pioneered: breaking the fourth wall, improvisation, and audience participation. The play-within-the-play reenacts Joan’s unhappy childhood and her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, her introduction to theatre at a London convent school, her brief stint at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, her two love affairs, and most importantly, her creation of Theatre Workshop as a people’s theatre. It begins as a rag-tag traveling troupe dedicated to plays for the working class and unwittingly creates the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Finally, the company finds a home in London’s East End to become the acclaimed avant garde theatre for all of London. Along the way, Joan encounters such luminaries at Noël Coward, Sir Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine and Brendan Behan.


Once ensconced in London, Theatre Workshop develops, among other plays, two of its major hits A Taste of Honey and Oh! What A Lovely War, but Theatre Workshop gets credit only for Lovely War. Both are wildly successful, but transfers to the West End and Broadway destroy Joan’s dream of a people’s theatre. Although Theatre Workshop spawns theatre workshops around the world, it is not enough. And when Shelagh chooses Tony Richardson to direct Honey in New York and the Hollywood film, Joan is “mortally” wounded. The company stops the play to complain that Joan, so colored by these events, has in fact been peppering her story with lies to get the audience to agree that she deserves credit for A Taste of Honey instead of Shelagh. They call for an audience vote. Joan is unrelenting, and when she hijacks the vote, the company abandons her. Alone and uncredited, delusional yet still proud, Joan is left with only the haunting memory of the huge legacy she left behind.


Cast of 6.  Running time: approximately 2 hours.



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Production HistorY



  1. The Arden Theatre (Philadelphia, P.A., 2006), Workshop with Mary Martello as Joan Littlewood.
  2. Pre-prod. development: Upper Darby Performing Arts Center and BMI Musical Theatre Workshop in NYC.
  4. Passage Theatre (Trenton, N.J., 2007), Reading with Mary Martello as Joan Littlewood.
  6. BMI Musical Theatre (NYC, 2008), Final class presentation with Beth Fowler, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Shorey Walker and Barbara Rosenblat as Joan Littlewood.
  8. The York Theatre (NYC), Readings with Beth Fowler (2008), Judy Kaye (2009, 2010), Sally Ann Triplett (2019) as Joan Littlewood, respectively.
  10. Musical Theater Radio, The Sampler Platter (internet radio) (2021). Music from the musical is played in rotation; dedicated page with info. posted on the site.

Vocalists Beth Fowler, Kevin Loreque, Jim Poulos, Fred Rose, Shorey Walker, and Darryl Winslow

Piano Steven Fisher