I meet Phil Willmott, whose love of a unique Liverpool hotel became an inspiration behind his new musical.

Checking in for a three-week run at the Liverpool Playhouse is the long-awaited musical production celebrating one of city’s most famous buildings.

Romance perhaps wouldn’t be the first association many in Liverpool would think of when the Britannia Adelphi Hotel becomes topic of conversation – especially these latter years.

Love it or hate it, there is no denying the prominent building, located in Ranelagh Place, has been and, I suppose, continues to be a place where stories are told.

“This building means so much to so many people from Liverpool,” says Phil Willmott, writer and director of the new musical Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi.

“I always try and do one production a year in Liverpool and always look forward to staying in the city. It’s why I wanted to write this musical really.”

The 42-year-old playwright is renowned for his imaginative musical productions including an adaptation of Around The World In Eighty Days, which visited Liverpool in 2002.

Willmott also brought a wonderful revival of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s Billy Liar to the Liverpool Playhouse in 2006, and his reworking of Athol Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys appeared in the city in 2005 and became noted as an outstanding production.

He is also the artistic director of his own multi award-winning theatre company The Steam Industry, as well as being a theatre correspondent for BBC London.

He grew up in Bristol, has worked on more than 50 theatre productions, and makes a return to Liverpool after his critically acclaimed version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, set around the VE Day celebrations, appeared at the Playhouse last year.

During each visit to the city, however, he has stayed at the Adelphi hotel, gathering inspiration for a new musical, and he started researching local people’s recollections of the hotel immediately after his production of Shakespeare’s play.

Speaking at the launch of Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi, held in the hotel’s large boardroom, he said: “So many people met their partners at the Adelphi, had their wedding reception here, had their child christened here, had their 18th birthday here, all on the dance floor of the Adelphi. So, there are many brilliant stories to tell.”

Using real-life romantic tales, a host of exuberant characters, and a toe-tapping musical score, Willmott’s romantic musical journey is a much-anticipated addition to the calendar of events taking place during Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture year.

However, Willmott believes his new production is an ideal opportunity to enjoy a night out and anything else is an added bonus.

He explains: “Hopefully it is a big, enjoyable, romantic and funny night out. But if billing it as an important part of the Capital of Culture brings people in, then great, I’m really happy about that.”

Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi tells the story of two lovers during the time when Hollywood stars – traveling by luxury ocean liners – would visit Liverpool and spend a night in the city’s most fashionable hotel.

A cast of seven, including West End musical theatre actors Simon Bailey and Julie Atherton in the lead roles of Thompson and Alice respectively – together with eight LIPA students making up the ensemble – bring a mix of the glitz and glamour of 1930s Liverpool to the stage.

This heyday period, Willmott has uncovered, showed the hotel to be an attraction and a time when the city could project itself to the world.

He adds: “A starting point for this story came from a lady who wrote in about her auntie, working at the Adelphi during the 1930s, who would flirt with the big stars visiting, knowing full well what she was doing!

“Constantly through its history the hotel has played host to very important people. In our show we’ve got Clark Gable, Roy Rogers and a big Hollywood movie producer. So, there is a great history to this place in terms of stars who have stayed here.”

The story of the legendary cowboy Rogers riding his equally famous horse Trigger through the hotel’s main entrance will forever be told. Added to this tale, come other stories of The Beatles, Dixie Dean, Adolf Hitler and former Prime Minister Harold Wilson – all whom are affiliated to the Britannia Adelphi Hotel story.

Opening originally in 1826, the hotel was re-built in 1912 after being bought by Arthur Towle, making it become known throughout Europe as one of the great hotels.

The iconic building’s solid marble walls, indoor heated swimming pool, sauna and full central heating, was considered the pinnacle of lavish hotel accommodation.

“It’s amazing how the perception of this place changes decade after decade. I love staying here because it’s got so much character,” says Willmott.

He added: “People are really bored of those anti-septic and plastic hotels, which all look the same.

“I think there are all sorts of buildings and there is so much history in Liverpool, which can be celebrated.

“When I came to Liverpool a decade ago, there wasn’t that sense of celebration and there wasn’t that sense of looking forward. But it’s so buzzy at the moment and there are all kinds of stories waiting to be told.”

* Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi appears at the Liverpool Playhouse from Saturday 28 June until Saturday 19 July.

Phil Willmott, writer and director of Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi (picture taken by Paul Tsanos)

Phil Willmott, writer and director of Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi (picture taken by Paul Tsanos)

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