The Time Traveller’s Wife musical sets a date for London’s West End

A musical based on Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, with music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Joss Stone, will open in London’s West End this autumn.

The bestselling novel, about an artist whose husband’s genetic disorder sends him hopping between past and future, was adapted as a film in 2009 and became a 2022 TV series that was axed after one season. The new stage production, first performed in Chester last year, is “like nothing you’ve ever seen” said Stewart, praising its illusions created by Chris Fisher whose past shows include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

When he was approached about the project, Stewart said his first thought was: “Wow, time travel – it’s complicated enough doing a musical!” Dealing with the logistics of the story was eased by his meeting with playwright Lauren Gunderson who wrote the script. “She kind of acted all the parts in front of me. That’s what sold me.”

Writing a musical during the lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic made it a “fractured” experience said Stone, whose previous collaborations with Stewart include the SuperHeavy album in 2011. “But it worked – it gave us more time to sit with things, mull them over. It wasn’t all fast and furious.”

The musical was first announced in 2021, prompting Niffenegger to tweet: “Should I know about this?” The show’s production team “immediately brought her in” and the novelist “really liked it” said Stewart who doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the production since its run at Storyhouse in Chester. Stewart was present for that premiere but Stone, who gave birth in the US shortly after the musical’s run, only recently heard the full music. “I’m excited to see it in the flesh,” she said.

It is Stone’s first experience of working on a musical. “Originally I thought it would be a different environment musically. You imagine it to be very stiff – ‘This is the way we do it’ – because of all the other moving parts. But it wasn’t – it was so much fun.” She anticipates performing versions of the songs for The Time Traveller’s Wife in her own solo concerts. “I See Her is one of my favourites – the approach, the timing, the way it’s sung is very different [in the musical]. It’s bigger, brighter, louder and clearer because it’s a stage performance.”

Stone quickly adapted to the nonstop process of rewriting songs to fit musicals. Learning to kill your darlings is part of it, explained Stewart whose first West End musical was an adaptation of the film Ghost in 2011. Making a musical is “complicated and never ending – even when you’re on stage it carries on being altered” he said. His first stage musical was an “extreme, raunchy, S&M version” of the cult sci-fi film Barbarella, staged in Vienna in 2004.

The musical of The Time Traveller’s Wife gives greater agency to the character of Clare (played by Joanna Woodward opposite David Hunter) than the film version did. Gunderson, who is America’s most produced playwright, “is great at writing for women” said Stone. “She put a different perspective on it to the movie which was about this guy and his time travel.” Stone enthused about the experience of writing songs for Clare who inspired her because she “has to find her own independence – that’s a very powerful thing for anybody to embrace, man or woman”. She related, too, to the story’s exploration of artistry. “If you’re an artist, you need to make stuff. I’m not writing songs all day because I can’t do that with the kids needing me [she has two young children] but I am baking a lot, constantly cooking, because I like making things.”

An original cast recording of The Time Traveller’s Wife will be produced later in the year. The show begins its run at the Apollo theatre, in London’s West End, on 7 October.