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Tony Macaulay's real-life story of being a Belfast Telegraph paperboy during the Troubles is about to be turned into a hit musical... and now he wants to see young people from the Shankill and Falls perform in it side by side

The author tells Ivan Little how Duke Special will help to provide the soundtrack to the stage version of his bestselling memoir - and why the search is on to find its stars

Hold the front page. For the breaking news is that the Belfast Telegraph is set to have a headline-grabbing role in an upcoming musical which could be a Belfast Boys-style answer to Derry Girls.

And the producers of the show, which has been adapted from the bestselling book Paperboy by local writer Tony Macaulay, have announced plans for open auditions on the Shankill and Falls to find new young stars to follow in the footsteps of their past proteges Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.

Tony, who based the book on his own story of growing up in the Ballygomartin area where he delivered copies of the Belfast Telegraph - or the Belly Telly as he called it, says he's thrilled that Youth Music Theatre UK (YMT), are producing the show at the Lyric Theatre Belfast in July.

Tony had actually been working on the screenplay for a movie version of the book, but the idea for a musical never crossed his mind until Lisburn drama student Dean Johnston called him from his college in England.

"He said that he had read the book and thought it would make a great musical," says Tony. "The eventual upshot was that YMT came in and commissioned stand-up comedian Andrew Doyle and musician Duke Special to turn my book into a musical.

"The two of them have collaborated before on Gulliver's Travels and Huckleberry Finn and they're a very gifted creative team. Dean is co-directing the piece."

Next month, YMT will carry out their normal auditions in Belfast, Dublin and Londonderry for a 35-strong cast.

But they're also holding special auditions on the Shankill, at the Spectrum Centre, and on the Falls, at the Falls Leisure Centre. The auditions are open to anyone between the ages of 11-21 years and no previous experience is necessary.

Tony is particularly pleased that young people who grew up in his own community will have the chance to try out for the musical.

"It could kickstart a career in the performing arts for someone," he says. "I'm equally delighted that on the same day, February 16, there will be auditions for Paperboy on the Falls Road as well as the Shankill. I believe the arts can break down barriers and build peace.

"I would love to see young people from the Shankill and Falls performing together in Paperboy."

Tony, who is a veteran peace-builder, has been campaigning for years to bring the peace walls here down.

In 2008, he published a discussion paper which came up with proposals for the removal of the infamous barriers.

Tony is still involved in cross-community work but his writing is taking up more and more of his time as is his leadership development work with companies in Britain and America.

He's just published a new book called Little House on the Peace Line which gives voice to the adult Tony Macaulay for the first time and is a darker tome than any of his previous works.

The new book tells how Tony and his wife, both Protestants, set up home on the nationalist side of a peace line in north Belfast close to the Murder Mile.

Tony is hoping the new book could repeat the stunning worldwide success of Paperboy which is the true story of his youth, warts and all - and war as well.

For in the late Seventies, Tony was living against the backdrop of the Troubles and watched as a neighbour who had been shot by the IRA died in his mother's arms.

But also included in the storyline of Paperboy is Tony's uplifting recollection of hearing 20,000 members of the Peace People singing Abide with Me in Woodvale Park in 1976.

Central to the narrative of Paperboy, too, is the music of the Westy disco that Tony's father used to run in a Nissan hut beside the local Presbyterian church.

The disco kept 400 youngsters off the troubled streets - and the Bay City Rollers were betartaned kings. So much so that their songs will be 'hinted at' in the musical according to Duke Special who has been listening to lots of the Scottish band's songs.

"It's all part of the research job," insists the musician, who laughs as he recalls that his first job as a teenager was as a paperboy in Holywood.

Tony says seeing Paperboy brought to life on stage will be emotional. He adds: "My late parents will be represented in the show and the 12-year-old me will also be there. I'll probably be a blubbering mess at the opening night."

But will Tony Macaulay have any part in the process to find someone to play the part of Tony Macaulay?

"They'll obviously be looking for a young Brad Pitt - a much more handsome and talented version of me. That shouldn't be too hard to find," jokes Tony, who once fancied a career in journalism in the hope of becoming the next Terry Wogan.

And he's edging closer all the time. Tony has become a regular thinker on Good Morning Ulster's Thought for the Day and on Prayer for Today on Radio 4.

He once worked for Downtown Radio where 20 years ago he interviewed a young Peter Wilson who later morphed into the multi-talented Duke Special.

"It's funny that it has all come full circle and that Peter is now composing the music for Paperboy," says Tony, who reveals that there's already been interest in the musical from the US.

He adds: "I'd obviously like to see it in the West End too, but who knows? The movie is still a real possibility too."

Duke Special is excited about writing the music for Paperboy. He says: "Neither Andrew nor I had read the book before but it is a fantastic story with lots of elements that will make for good theatre as well as tackling some big issues.

"A lot of young people will get a sense of the story. I have never written a huge amount about Belfast before. Yet I have clearly been influenced by growing up in Northern Ireland."

Downpatrick-born choreographer Jennifer Rooney will be working on the musical and the executive producer, Jon Bromwich, says there's a real buzz about Paperboy, which will be a major part of YMT's 15th anniversary season.

"We are looking for strong actors dancers and musicians to join us so we are hoping for great things at our auditions," he says.

Special auditions for Paperboy will take place on the Shankill Road at Spectrum Centre (10am-2pm) and on the Falls Road at Falls Leisure Centre (3pm-7pm) on February 16.

Auditions in Ireland for all YMT shows in UK-wide season take place on January 21, 11am-4pm, Dance Ireland, Dublin, February 3, 11am-4pm; the Playhouse Theatre, Londonderry, and February 4, 10am-1pm & 2pm-5pm, Lyric Theatre, Belfast.Performer auditions can be booked online at www.youthmusictheatreuk.org/auditions or by tel: 020 8563 7725. Musician auditions can be booked by tel: 020 8563 7725 or by emailing hannahkipling@ymtuk.org

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