Who Is Eddie Perfect? Meet the Aussie Composer Who Makes King Kong and Beetlejuice Sing
You likely haven't heard his name before. But you're about to see it everywhere.
Eddie Perfect is having a moment.
The 40-year-old self-taught singer-songwriter, comedian, and cabaret performer "stopped getting piano lessons at the age of 7" and has no formal training in composition. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, he also has very little name recognition on this side of the Pacific. And yet, two sets of major Broadway producers have enlisted the composer-lyricist with bringing two beloved American films, King Kong and Beetlejuice, to the stage this season.
Even Perfect seems flabbergasted by his improbable trajectory. "New York is a long way away from Melbourne," he says. "It seemed like a very distant dream that probably wouldn't ever happen."
So how did it?
Perfect began his career as a musical-theater performer, studying acting at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. During his time there, he would noodle around on the piano and other instruments, writing material for his classmates. In the process, he recognized his own strengths. Describing himself as an "idiosyncratic performer," he knew that he would never fit into an ensemble. He'd have to create his own work in order to succeed onstage.
With that in mind, he began writing and performing solo shows, which gave him a basic understanding of what it's like to connect with an audience from the other side of the footlights. "In the world of comedy, you can hear when you fail. That was really valuable in terms of learning how to preserve the integrity of a joke, how to build a musical argument, and how to make the music every bit as important as the comedy."
It wasn't until he penned the Helpmann Award-winning Shane Warne: The Musical that Perfect realized that his interests had developed even further. Not only did he write the entire show, but he also served as its musical director, arranger, orchestrator, and took part in the casting process. "It's probably not a stress I'd ever like to go back to again," Perfect notes with a laugh.
He realized that he needed to collaborate with other people, not just go it alone. "I didn't know how to get on that great big writer's list in the sky. I felt like the kid outside the candy shop with his face pressed to the glass and no idea how to get in."
It was his wife, Lucy Cochran, who suggested that Perfect buy a ticket to New York to see what happens there. A light bulb went off and he rang up one of his old pals who had made it in America. Tim Minchin, the Tony-nominated composer of Matilda and Groundhog Day, was Perfect's piano player when they would play double-bills at small clubs in Melbourne and accompany each other. Minchin arranged for Perfect to meet with his agent, William Morris powerhouse John Buzzetti. They got along and started working together.
Perfect knew that a musical based on the 1988 Michael Keaton film Beetlejuice was in the works, and Buzzetti had informed him that big-name writers were pitching for it. Willing to do anything to get noticed, Perfect wrote three songs on spec. "I turned myself inside out writing these songs. I knew it was going to be the first and only chance I'd ever have to pitch on a Broadway show. I was going to kill myself to make it the best thing I could." He handed them over and months went by. "Out of the blue, I got a call saying I booked the gig and I literally fell over. I was an insane guy on the phone going, 'Oh my god.' It was amazing."
King Kong reared his head nearly two years later. Australian in origin, this musical adaptation of the 1938 film had undergone multiple revisions with multiple creative teams in the years since its 2013 premiere in Melbourne. Perfect, who saw it on opening night, booked the gig after he, director-choreographer Drew McOnie, book writer Jack Thorne, and music producer and composer Marius de Vries, were called upon to pitch their own version.
Perfect's version isn't bogged down in 1930s pastiche. "There are a lot of influences from modern music, and every song is going to be anthemic, like Jesus Christ Superstar."
Admittedly, the team is still finding its way. Based on the demands of the title character, a 2,000-pound animatronic gorilla puppet, the show has been rehearsing in two different venues, the New 42nd Street Studios and the Broadway Theatre, where previews begin October 1. "In the rehearsal room, it's like we're rehearsing a chamber musical, and then a few blocks away, it's an epic spectacle. You have to keep checking in with the size of the story you're telling, and make sure that the size of the music and the size of the choices are big enough to translate in a world in which a giant gorilla is possible."
At the same time, Perfect will have to find his way to Washington, DC, where Beetlejuice begins its run at the National Theatre on October 14 (before transferring to Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre, down the block from King Kong's habitat, in March). Figuring out how that show sang, he says with a laugh, "was the challenge that kept me awake for two months straight."
"There were a lot of hints in the script that Beetlejuice is a demon, and within him there are multiple personalities. I wanted all of them to have a voice and for him to be able to sing with himself across multiple genres within a song." Stylistically, the opening number goes from ska to reggae to folk to swing jazz to heavy metal, to name just a few. "To make all those disparate genres sound cohesive was a real challenge, but it helps having an endlessly comically inventive performer like Alex Brightman." And don't worry, movie fans, Harry Belafonte's "The Banana Boat Song," is still featured prominently.
Now that Perfect is getting to live out his Broadway dreams, he's only a little daunted by the fact that he's responsible for two huge musicals getting on their feet at the same time. "It's been three years of writing, so it feels bizarre now to be staring down the barrel and presenting this to actual human beings," he says. But he's clearly relishing this pluperfect experience. "It's going to be really exciting to see whether a writer from Melbourne can write something that speaks to people on the other side of the world."