THE songs are vintage Cat Stevens, the set designs echo The Hobbit, and the journey at the heart of the story sounds more like a trip, but Moonshadow is nowhere near as kooky as it sounds, its famous creator insists.
The story, about a young musician trying to find a new light source for his world, which is perpetually in darkness, is ''centred around family, essentially'', Yusuf said yesterday while introducing a workshop teaser of his production ahead of its May 31 world premiere at Melbourne's Princess Theatre.
Cat Stevens' hits reinvented in new musical
Cat Stevens is in Melbourne to talk about his new musical, Moonshadow.
''They say there are only two stories – those about leaving home and those about coming home. This musical has both.''
Yusuf spent his childhood in a flat above his parents' restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of London's West End. Undoubtedly, he'd like to take Moonshadow – his first foray into theatre – back home as a triumph. But the choice of Melbourne as incubator is far from random - there's a family connection here, too.
Yusuf – formerly known as Yusuf Islam, and before that as Cat Stevens and even before that as plain old Steven Georgiou – has partnered with two Melbourne-based nephews to produce the show.
''We've graciously been made associate producers without any financial commitment,'' says Steven Georgiou, a 60-year-old whose showbiz career began in the 1970s, when he managed bands and booked town hall venues. ''He's a very generous man in all aspects,'' says Tony Georgiou, 58, a theatre director and acting teacher until the responsibilities of raising a young family got in the way. ''How people perceive him is very different to how we perceive and know him.''
Since arriving in Melbourne more than a month ago, Yusuf has subtly set about shifting how people – perhaps remembering only his rejection of his own music in the 1970s, his conversion to Islam or his apparent endorsement of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie – think of him. He has led a quiet life in Balwyn, even adopted a football team. A couple of weeks ago, he visited the Richmond dressing room pre-game, shared a prayer session with Tiger star and fellow Muslim Bachar Houli and accepted a guernsey.
Family connections weren't the only reason to debut his show here. ''This is a testing ground for it,'' says Tony Georgiou. ''To really achieve his vision with this show he needed to be in a neutral zone, where he's not having the media knowing every move he makes. He's been able to work freely here.''
Tony Georgiou promises the $5 million production Melbourne sees will be visually spectacular and upbeat, but ''certainly it'll go through a lot of changes'' on its hoped-for journey into the wider world.
''No musical is ever 'ready','' says Anders Albien, the show's Swedish director, who has been working on the project for nine years. ''Musicals are written with the audience, not for the audience.''
Contemplating the design drawings on the wall of the Brunswick rehearsal space, Albien is excited about the sets being assembled in Adelaide and the projections being developed by Melbourne design house Eness. But he admits he won't know how, or if, it all fits together until the production moves into the Princess on May 8.
Is that nerve-racking? ''Very much,'' he says. ''It is an extremely complicated production, but that's why it's fun. I've done a lot, so you don't want to do middle-of-the-road things.''
No musical is ever 'ready'. Musicals are written with the audience, not for the audience.
There's little chance anyone will accuse Moonshadow of that.
Karl Quinn is on Twitter: @karlkwin