Coming out of the shadows
Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) is back to premiere his first ever musical Moonshadow in Melbourne; a magical tale about finding everlasting happiness
Tomorrow, the first ever musical by Yusuf Islam - formerly known as Cat Stevens - Moonshadow will make its world premiere at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. The musical, which took Yusuf over ten years to develop, write and create, has finally come to fruition. And with a cast of local youthful talent, the show will intertwine Yusuf's much-loved songs in a tale of good vs evil, fantasy and fairytale. Moonshadow is a magical story about a journey we all take to find everlasting happiness.
The journey in the show is not unlike Yusuf's journey in life. Born Steven Demetre Georgiou, in 1948, he grew up with his Greek-Cypriot father and Swedish mother living above the family restaurant near London's West End. It was here that Yusuf's love of telling stories through music and musicals began.
At a young age, Yusuf developed an interest in Greek folk song and dance, and in his early youth convinced his father to buy him an acoustic guitar for eight pounds. After changing his name to Cat Stevens, he had his first UK hit single in 1966 with I Love My Dog. In 1967 Matthew and Son went to number two on the British chart. By now his soft, romantic and mystical songs were captivating audiences all over the world. Songs like Peace Train, Matthew and Son, The First Cut is the Deepest and so many more, have shaped listeners of all ages. His songs have been covered by so many artists and with over eight gold albums in a row, it was a shock for all his fans and the musical industry alike when he gave it all up. Yusuf auctioned his guitars to charity, converted to Islam and changed his name. He had found everlasting happiness.
"I really don't have much to say about it because I believe everyone searches what they need in life and I think what he found with the Koran was an embodiment and he was able to embrace it," says Yusuf's nephew and company director of Moonshadow Anthony Georgiou.
Georgiou, along with his brother Steve, have taken a management and creative consulting role in this musical. They have allowed their uncle to leave the base of his musical in capable hands in Australia, giving him the creative freedom he needs to explore and develop the musical to the best of its ability. With family in Melbourne, family he could trust and family who are also in the arts industry, Melbourne was an obvious choice to premiere his musical.
But Melbourne was also the city that Cat Stevens as an artist was embraced with open arms and Yusuf wanted to give his music back to the fans. But Melbourne is also a safe place for Yusuf. Georgiou explains that his uncle could "work freely [in Melbourne] as opposed to a lot of places in the world where he may be a little bit more scrutinised".
"Australia is a lot more accommodating," Yusuf's nephew told Neos Kosmos, "we aren't so politically minded and it's very hard to work around the world where you may find there are a lot of people who want to have their input into this show.
"It's his total creation, writing and his music and his vision of a fantasy and you need to be able to do that in a climate that doesn't overlook you all the time and gives you the freedom," he says.
Apart from choosing Melbourne over the West End or Broadway, Yusuf also chose to use young local talent over a big name. The leading cast members include names like Gareth Keegan; Gemma-Ashley Kaplan; Joylon James; Blake Bowden and Robert Grubb - all well-known names within the theatre industry but not as well-known on the street. Yusuf made the choice to hire these competent young actors because to have a big name in the musical would distract away from the ultimate leading star - Yusuf's music.
If you stand back and really listen to his songs, the lyrics the poetics of them, they are stories in themselves. Yusuf knew all along that he could intertwine them into a musical. There are 42 songs in this musical, much more than your average musical - but Georgiou told Neos Kosmos that many more could have been chosen. With that in mind, maybe he has another musical up his sleeve which Georgiou said is all probable seeing that Yusuf is such a creative hard-worker. The classic song Ruby My Love which cemented the artist Cat Stevens in the Greek community, is also included in the musical that Yusuf wants to be embraced by not only his Greek fans, but also the whole ethnic community in Melbourne.
The storyline of Moonshadow is about a boy trying to find the light; eternal happiness. From seeing images of the set design - created by Turkish illustrator Dogan Ur; images of a fantasy world both beautiful and nightmarish, think The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings, come to mind. But whatever the case, this $5 million production is magical.
"He calls it a fantasy," says Georgiou of his uncle's impression of the show.
"It is a journey that takes you through a myriad of his songs as well as bringing unity and spreading a learning...it's not a story that's overloaded with messages - he's not preaching - but he is trying to say to people that we can all live in harmony in peace if we want to search for that."
The quest for eternal happiness is something that Yusuf has been doing since he first came into the spotlight in the late 1960s. His spiritual journey saw him discover numerology, zen, Buddhism, but essentially it was Islam that fulfilled him.
"Probably the industry in the early days changed his view and took him off track of what he was searching for," says Georgiou about his uncle's spiritual journey and adds that his uncle is trying to harmonise Western culture and Islam and not make them separated. A spokesman for Islam, Yusuf has created Islamic music through his label Mountain of Light. He also has a lot of humanitarian interests and supports Islamic schools and hospitals.
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