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The Founding of the Mercury Workshop and The Challenge



On a rainy night in early Spring 1992 Stephen met with Ed Hardy, Kenny Wax and Steven Dexter at Kenny's flat to discuss the best way forward for new musical theatre writing after the Sondheim Masterclass and how to keep the momentum going. During a long meeting the idea gradually emerged of forming a writer's organisation dedicated to supporting and facilitating the writing of new musicals.

The then unnamed Mercury Workshop was born making Ed, Stephen, Kenny and Steven Dexter its originators.  


Subsequently writers from the Sondheim masterclass (as well as other writers) were then invited to Ed's flat to listen to an impromptu song cycle and hear about the plans for the new writer's organisation. This led to The Challenge which launched the newly named Mercury Workshop which Ed ran for several years.

To launch the Mercury Workshop twenty-eight writers came together to write The Challenge,

a multi-collaborative musical about King Minos of Crete and the Minotaur, Daedalus and his son Icarus.

Each writing team was assigned a section of the story which suited their strengths as writers.

Stephen and Shaun McKenna wrote the final two numbers, “Minos Is Here” and the finale of the show

“If I Tell You”. Stephen also wrote the music for “Love Must Change” in Act 1.

Stephen Sondheim provided several leitmotifs for the writers to use to unite the score musically.


The show had a triumphant premiere at the Shaw Theatre in London on July 19th, 1992 with a terrific cast.

The Challenge was directed by Steven Dexter and produced by Kenny Wax and Sacha Brooks

(for the Mercury Workshop). Stephen Clark wrote the book.

The Financial Times wrote “ every way it already surpasses dozens of musicals professionally presented in recent years on either side of the Atlantic”.

The Original Cast Recording is available on iTunes.

Click the link below to watch the Finale of The Challenge on YouTube.

(Today, the Mecury Workshop is called Mercury Musical Developments).  


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