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Star composer Frank Gallagher goes step beyond to help Derry theatre group

By Leona O'Neill

World-renowned composer Frank Gallagher has taken time out from working with the stars to support a trail-blazing theatre group in his home city of Londonderry.

The now London-based record producer and arranger has worked with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Charlotte Church, Sir James Galway, Ronan Keating and Andre Rieu, as well as composing for TV and film.

Frank has now offered his services to Stage Beyond, which gives young adults with learning disabilities their chance to perform.

And he is acting as musical director in their latest production, A Grand Spectacle, which will take place in the City Hotel next Sunday (June 18).

Frank - who in between rehearsals with the 28-strong Stage Beyond cast is working with Garry Tallent from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band - said the project has filled his heart with joy.

He said that the talent and commitment of the group, led by company manager Dee Conaghan and her team, won him over.

"Stage Beyond make no perceivable concession to any degree of disability, there are no punches pulled," he said.

"Rehearsals are as intense and as professional as anything I have witnessed throughout my career.

"This is what strikes you. This is not playtime, there is no mollycoddling. What's clear is that this is run as a professional theatre company and that is how work is produced.

"As in any company, there is a variety of talents and abilities and Dee and her team are always keen to emphasise that every single person has a special talent to be drawn out."

Frank, who was recently commissioned by the Seamus Heaney Homeplace to write a piece of music for the visit of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, said: "I am delighted to play my part in the celebration of this great company and for my time spent at home with Stage Beyond, something of a hidden jewel in the cultural landscape of the north west.

"The kickback that I get when I see the cast's satisfaction at what they have achieved really is unique, precious and amazing, it's at a different level.

"Stage Beyond has gotten under my skin, they have captured my heart. I just couldn't say no to them."

Ms Conaghan, a founding member of the group, said she was proud of how far the production company had come in 15 years and said the cast were looking forward to what promises to be a hugely entertaining evening.

Another of Derry's great musical talents, celebrated mezzo-soprano Doreen Curran, will also be performing in next Sunday's gala production to celebrate Stage Beyond's 15th anniversary and raise much-needed funds for the local theatre company whose members hail from across the north west and Donegal.

Tickets, priced £20, are available from the Millennium Forum. Telephone 028 7137 2223 or email stagebeyond@aol.com

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