And in the End - The Death and Life of John Lennon
Interview with Sandy Marshall (10-6-04)
By Ronnie

Right: Artwork Copyright - Shannon

When you've been a Beatles-fanatic as long as I have, you develop a wide circle of friends that know of your love of all things Beatles and will contact you regarding virtually any Beatles-related news that they hear. So when I started EAR CANDY, I naturally brought this "connection" with me. It was through one of my dearest Beatles friends that I found out about the play "And in the End: The Death and Life of John Lennon". The play had its world premiere in Edinburgh in August and plans are in the works to bring the play to Broadway in 2005.

I contacted writer-producer-director Alexander "Sandy" Marshall regarding granting me an interview about his project and he graciously took the time to answer my questions. I was a little nervous about talking to an Emmy Award winning writer, especially one with a resume as impressive as Sandy's, but my quest for Beatles-information overcame any nervousness on my part. I found Sandy's answers both fascinating and illuminating and I hope to see the play when it reaches the U.S.

Oh yeah, there was also a little tinge of jealously as I read all the Beatle-people in England that Sandy got to talk with while researching this project. (I did get to spend a day with Allan Williams, the Beatles first manager, during my trek to England in 1981, but he's the only one on Sandy's list that I got to meet while there!) After reading and talking to Sandy about his research for this play, it promises to be a real treat for any Beatles fan.

E.C.: When reading your impressive biography in the "And in the End" programme, I noticed that "And in the End” seemed to be the first music-related (at least rock ‘n roll) project that you've done.

Sandy Marshall: No, it's actually not the first music-related or rock project that I've done. I've written several reviews, musicals and CDs over the course of my career. Sometimes I did the lyrics, sometimes just the script. It all depended on what was required at the time.

E.C.: How exactly did this play come about? With all the various projects on John Lennon over the years, did you consciously want to put a new spin on Lennon?

Sandy Marshall: The job originally came about as a work for hire. A California production group was looking for someone to write a one-man show on the life of John Lennon. I got the job, did the research and wrote the script. The producers did not live up to their contractual obligations and the rights reverted to me. I thought a one-man show was nice, but wanted to expand it a bit and I re-wrote it to my own satisfaction with other characters.

E.C.: What drew you to the character of John Lennon? Was he your favorite Beatle?

Sandy Marshall: Well, as I said, it was a work for hire... but yes, he was my favorite Beatle.

E.C.: Also in the programme you mention the people that you talked with when researching Lennon's life - including: Julia Baird, Allan Williams, Klaus Voorman, Neil Aspinall and Rod Davis. Did any of these people get to see the play, and if so what were their reactions?

Sandy Marshall: Yes, Rod Davis (who has become a great friend of mine) saw the show and loved it. Sophie Davis (Rod's daughter) wound up as our Company Steward for the Edinburgh run since she had just moved to Edinburgh the week we arrived there. She did a fabulous job and was terrific! Also, Eric Griffiths (who lives in Edinburgh and was also one of John's original Quarrymen) saw the show and was very enthusiastic about it.

John's sister, Julia Baird read an earlier draft of the script and said it was the most accurate piece ever written on her brother, but she wasn't able to get up to the show while we were in Edinburgh.

E.C.: Also, when talking to these Beatles-confidants, did you come across any revelations or stories that you don't get to hear in the regular Beatles biographies?

Sandy Marshall: Yes... and that's one of the reasons you have to come and see the show.

E.C.: Once you completed your research, how long did it take to finalize a script?

Sandy Marshall: I think I had a six-month deadline on the original script... but after the rights reverted to me, I've worked on it for about four years.

E.C.: Were there many drafts - or did you pretty much have an idea of how you wanted the story to go?

Sandy Marshall: Yes, lots of drafts... and even one since the Edinburgh show... and another I'm working on now.

E.C.: Even the title, "And in the End - The Death and Life of John Lennon", implies that John dies first and then confronts death (the five stages of death including-denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).

Sandy Marshall: Quite right. The show opens with the five gunshots that took John's life. The action actually takes place in the moments after John is shot but while he is still trying to hold on to his final minutes of life. His life passes before his (and our) eyes — as he confronts the five stages of death; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

E.C.: In your research, did you find any contradictory comments from John about death?

Sandy Marshall: Many... but you already knew that.

E.C.: Or did you have to use a fair amount of artistic license?

Sandy Marshall: I did my best to tell the REAL story without the "spin." The only artistic license I took had to do with what happens when we die. There weren't a lot of people (who were talking) who could give me that information so I took some artistic license in that area.

Right: Sandy Marshall

E.C.: I found it interesting that there are only 3 characters, Lennon and the two gatekeepers. Was this to keep the focus on Lennon? Also, how did you deal with the flashbacks of his life?

Sandy Marshall: Well, that's not exactly true. Yes, there are three actors in the play, but the two Gatekeepers of the White Light play multiple roles including John's mother — Julia, Uncle George, Aunt Mimi, the Headmaster at Quarry Bank School, Jim Gretty (the salesman who sold John his guitar at Hessy's), the Policeman who told John his mother had been killed, Bruno Koschmider, and assorted other characters. The focus is always on Lennon, throughout the show. The flashbacks in his life are presented within the context of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

E.C.: The artwork for the project is truly striking, really art gallery-type work. How did you decide on the artwork, how did you choose the artist and what parameters did you give the artist for the work you had in mind?

Sandy Marshall: I agree. Shannon is a BRILLIANT artist and she was the first person I hired when we got the go ahead to do the show in Edinburgh. I'd seen her work four or five years ago and tracked her down. She lives on the West Coast, I live in New York, but when she was visiting NYC, my wife Susan and I took her to dinner and we became GREAT friends. I didn't give Shannon any real parameters. I believe you should let an artist be an artist. We have a Yin and Yang thing going on... my words and her paintings say the same things.

E.C.: Is music used in this play or is it all a monologue?

Sandy Marshall: There is INCIDENTAL music in the show... a bit of Elvis... a bit of Lonnie Donegan... Rock and Roll riffs etc.... but NO Beatles or Lennon music. We're not Beatlemania... and besides, Yoko said NO. The play constantly switches from monologue to dialogue (as John interacts with the people that were in his life) and back again.

E.C.: Are there any plans to bring the play to the U.S.? What is the schedule?

Sandy Marshall: Yes, but we're hoping to go through London before we come to New York. At the moment we're in the process of putting together an investor's package that will include our rather glowing reviews from Edinburgh. We'll be happy to e-mail this to you, if you're interested.

E.C.: Are there any plans on doing a film version of this project? What comes to mind is the VH1 fictional film, "Two of Us" (about a fictional meeting between John and Paul in 1976), which has been released on DVD.

Sandy Marshall: "Plans" is too strong of a word, but we are in "talks" about the possibility of doing a film.

E.C.: I'm not familiar with any of the legalities involved in having a play performed about a famous person. Did you have to get any special permission from Yoko? If "And in the End" played in NYC it would be great if she could attend!

Sandy Marshall: One doesn't have to get permission to do a play about an historical figure, but we also have to be careful not to infringe on any copyrighted material. For instance, we would have to get permission to use any of John's music.

Yoko would be most welcome at our show, but on the other hand we understand that she might not want to relive that awful night when John was murdered. Just for the record, in AND IN THE END, we never mention John's killer by name. We only refer to him in the play as: "Some fuckin' asshole from the shallow end of the gene pool" and "some pile of shit scumbag." He shot John to gain some sort of fame so we give him the fame he DESERVES.

E.C.: I bet the auditions for John Lennon were fascinating. Can you describe the audition process for this project and tell me how you decided on Valentine Pelka?

Sandy Marshall: Yes, the auditions for John Lennon were very fascinating and also very hard work. We had casting sessions in New York and London. Valentine Pelka was the LAST actor to come in on the LAST day of auditions. Rod Davis was at the London casting sessions along with me and my co-producer, William X Parsons. Val was clearly the right choice and we all knew it. It was quite a surprise to find out (after we had given him the job) that he was married to a Japanese woman and that they had a five-year-old son named JUDE!

E.C.: Hypothetically- if you were to pick another rock 'n roll celebrity to do another project about - who would it be? Are there any other rock stars that you find as fascinating as Lennon?

Sandy Marshall: I suppose Bob Dylan is the first one that comes to mind.

E.C.: So many people were devastated by the senseless murder of Lennon. Is there an ultimate "message" that you wanted to get across in the play?

Sandy Marshall: Happiness is NOT a warm gun.

Above: Artwork Copyright - Shannon