It was a long way to go for a first night: the 10-hour flight to Los Angeles, then a two-hour drive along the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara, a place fondly, but somewhat inaccurately, known as the Californian Riviera — fine beaches but, alas, no warm Mediterranean sea. It was worth the expense and effort because this was no ordinary first night; Nanette and I were there for the world premiere of Stephen Schwartz’s first opera, based on my 1963 film Séance on a Wet Afternoon. The occasion proved to be the Full Monty in reverse — a black tie, diamonds and tiaras affair in the Granada Theatre refurbished at a cost of $43 million dollars. No lack of well-heeled arts sponsors in that neck of the woods, with the principal commission sponsors for the opera a couple appropriately named Rich and Lucy Janssen. Having had to hold out a begging bowl for 27 years as President of our National Youth Theatre, I felt envious of the way wealthy Americans sustain the arts.
Four years previously, out of the blue, Stephen Schwartz had intrigued me by asking if he could acquire the opera rights. Opera? I thought, that’s a new one. I am no stranger to people wanting to remake my films: some Hollywood producers desperately repackage yesterday’s winners with strange results, as witnessed when my original Stepford Wives was copied. But the prospect of an opera, no less, in such expert hands was exciting and I did not hesitate to give my blessing. Stephen Schwartz has a brilliant track record (Godspell, Pippin and Wicked) and paid me a further compliment by using my original screenplay as the basis for his libretto. Dissolve, as we say, and four years later there we were, sitting in the opulent auditorium among the great and good of Santa Barbara, awaiting the result.