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Boy George Takes London

Autobiographical musical is the toaste of the West End

February 13, 2002 12:00 AM ET

While Boy George has had a somewhat quiet go of things over in the U.S. of late, he has become a cottage industry in the U.K. The former Culture Club singer is a celebrity DJ, regularly spinning at top clubs from London to Ibiza, releasing successful DJ mix compilations. He's a fixture on British TV, hosting his own chat show and appearing as a frequent guest on programs like the music quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks. And now, perhaps his greatest accomplishment of recent years, Taboo -- the West End musical about the early-Eighties New Romantics scene in London -- has opened to full houses and reviews that stretch, as George says, "from raves to complete indifference."

But for George, just getting the neo-autobiographical musical made was the true success. "When I was sixteen I wanted to change the world -- me against the universe," he says. "Rock & roll was really my revenge on all those bastards at school who called me names."

Based around the experiences of five people from the early Eighties London club scene -- George, promoters Phillip Sallon and Steve Strange, performer Marilyn, and designer/performance artist Leigh Bowery -- Taboo is part truth, part perception, part camp and entirely entertaining. It doesn't take itself too seriously, while still touching on issues like George's descent into drug addiction and Bowery's death from AIDS. George wrote the lyrics and music, while collaborator Mark Davies wrote the book.

But the duo didn't spend any time interviewing the real life counterparts to the actors on stage. "It was based on my version of the truth," he says. "Marilyn always said, 'There's George's version, there's mine and then there's the truth.' The important thing is that what we're doing is a cartoon exaggerated postcard of that period. It's entertainment."

"When I wrote my autobiography [Take It Like a Man], there were people I thought I had been really nice to who were offended," he continues. "You can never predict what people are going to do or say. People who I thought I was pretty nasty to came up and kissed me."

At Taboo's heart is Billy, a young wannabe photographer from the suburbs who comes to London looking for excitement. He falls in with Sallon and George -- played to absolute karma chamelonic perfection by Euan Morton -- getting a handful, an earful and a life in the process. Billy falls for Kim, a budding fashion designer, and the romantic center is set. As the world of clubland swirls around them, Billy is confronted with questions about his sexuality, fears and desires. His romance falls apart, and George's narrative, confessional songs bring it all together.

"Since I did [the 1995 solo album] Cheapness & Beauty, my aim was to become much more direct in my writing," George says. "When I wrote Take It Like a Man, the album was the record of the book. The early Culture Club songs were much more ambiguous. I'm a huge Joni Mitchell fan -- that's what I aspire to as a writer. That's the type of person who inspires me to write. Except that I name names."

At its heart Taboo is George's show, yet there are still things he would like to change if the run continues. "I don't live in an exclusively gay world, so for me to not include heterosexuality, it wouldn't be truthful. I'm a 100 percent hetero hag," he says, laughing. "But I think the whole straight element of the show could be a whole lot more ambiguous. There weren't any rules back then. Everyone just said they were bisexual. It was just sort of assumed."

George is the proud parent and protector of all that is Taboo (the title comes from the club of the same name where everything and everyone eventually fell from grace), but he's also circumspect about its chances for survival. A musical from the Pet Shop Boys, Closer to Heaven, dealt with somewhat similar themes and closed as quickly as it opened last year. "We've already had interest from Germany and Australia to put it on," he says. "And, obviously, Broadway is the dream." But a distant one, he admits.

In the meantime, the singer remains proud of his past successes as he moves forward. A collection of tracks he wrote and produced with dance artists should be finished later in the year, and a "very personal" record of acoustic songs called Useful Things to Do With Your Pain is also on tap. And while many of the top U.K. DJs have their eyes set on conquering America, George maintains an indifference to it.

"I don't have that desire," he says. "I've sort of done it already. America's such a vast place and each city is like a different country. Besides . . . I don't have the shoes."

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