Classic TV Drama 'Upstairs Downstairs' Revived as Stage Musical (Exclusive)

Courtesy of Photofest
Jean Marsh and Gordon Jackson in 'Upstairs Downstairs'

Composer Stephen Endelman has nabbed the rights from co-creator John Whitney.

The British are coming back, the British are coming back!

The iconic 1970s ITV drama Upstairs Downstairs, a progenitor to Downton Abbey, is being revived as a stage musical. Composer Stephen Endelman (De-Lovely) nabbed the rights from co-creator John Whitney after striking up a friendship with his daughter, Fiona. Endelman traveled to the Whitneys' home in Dorset to personally obtain the blessing from a man he calls "one of the bastions of British entertainment."

"We have to protect the brand and make sure it's in the right hands," Fiona tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding that various parties have approached her father and fellow rights holders Eileen Atkins, Jean Marsh and the late John Hawkesworth in the past. "I felt comfortable with Stephen; we have similar backgrounds and understand each other."

Endelman has assembled a creative team of fellow Los Angeles-based British expats: Producer Adam Matalon is writing the book, and singer-songwriter Matt Goss is penning lyrics to go with Endelman's music. "We already call ourselves the Musketeers," says Goss. "We've collectively and individually come up with great ideas for this project. There's no ego, and we are all completely committed to making sure that we, first and foremost, pay respect to this incredible property and, secondly, create a story that moves and excites us."

"I speak on behalf of myself and the other creators of Upstairs Downstairs — Dame Eileen Atkins, Jean Marsh and the Hawkesworth estate — that we are truly thrilled to have entrusted our beloved Upstairs Downstairs with my daughter Fiona Whitney and her partner Stephen Endelman to turn it into a musical," says John Whitney. "Knowing that Matt Goss and Adam Matalon are going to create a beautiful and memorable new rendition of Upstairs Downstairs fills us with joy, and with Stephen's music we are confident that all these ingredients will prove to be a recipe that Mrs. Bridges would have been very proud of."

Hedge fund founder Reagan Silber — the only U.S. native involved so far — is producing the musical, which will hold workshops in L.A. in November and in London in January. Silber tells THR that the plan is to bring on more financial partners as the project further develops.
"We've got this iconic brand, yet none of us wants to sit back. We want to see how we can evolve the storytelling," Matalon says. "How do we take a fresh look at the fundamentals of the brand, which was about a class system and hierarchy? How do we tell that story in a way that's true to the brand and yet feels relevant today?"
He and his colleagues believe that the themes of Upstairs Downstairs naturally resonate with current events. "Other than technology, there's very little difference between what is happening in the world today and what was going on then," Endelman says of the show, which will use the classic Upstairs Downstairs characters to tell an original story set in 1911-12. "We're still fighting; we still have a class system. I'm interested in exploring the genesis." 

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.