Vernon and I is the true story of Vernon and Irene Castle, widely considered the parents of modern ballroom dancing. It charts their lives together, and their phenomenal rise from obscurity to the dazzling heights of international superstardom, perfectly pitched to the ragtime phenomenon sweeping America and the world at the time.
Vernon and Irene were artists dedicated to bringing entertainment to thousands of people, and this legacy lives on in ballrooms worldwide. The script, while attuned to the current zeitgeist, also reaches beyond to tell a timeless story of love and life. Punctuated by public adoration and private tragedy, love and loss, success in the face of the Great War, their lives were truly incredible.
‘Kid, you’re a natural. You’re hired.’
The Castles were united in 1905 and married in 1910. On stage and off they led dramatic and glamorous lives until Vernon’s tragic death in 1918, by which time Vernon had returned to England, enlisted as a fighter pilot for the Royal Flying Corps, been posted to France and flown over 100 combat missions. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Iron Cross and remains the only World War One pilot to ever receive both. The latter was given to him by an unnamed German pilot Vernon had shot down and wounded, only to land by and carry to the hospital in the English barracks.
Vernon and I is a story told by an elderly black American called Walter Ash. He was a retainer for Hubert Foote, Irene’s father and a close friend of both Vernon and Irene. He was integral to the two dancers’ success and was swept up in the whirlwind that was their lives. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made a film about the dancers’ lives in 1939, the studio inexcusably bastardising the character of Walter. This script however is an accurate portrayal of the dancers’ lives: its main source text is Irene Castle’s own biography, ‘Castles in the Air’, along with a rare book that contained the letters Vernon sent to Irene during his time in France fighting the German flying circus. Meticulously researched, the characters (with the exception of a few who no information exists about) are entirely real, doing and saying the things they did as remembered and recounted by Irene. The play took almost two years to research and a further two years to write.
Vernon was a truly remarkable human being and I got a real sense of who he was by reading the 200-plus letters he wrote to his wife while stationed in France. Many people spoke highly of Vernon and Irene, and their lives interweaved with Lew Fields, Charlie Dillingham, Charles Frohman and perhaps most notably Irving Berlin, to name a few. The little-known Berlin wrote his first musical about the dance craze that was sweeping America and based it on the dancers’ own lives. The debut of ‘Watch Your Step’ actually had Vernon in the lead role and was undoubtedly a big part of Berlin’s immediate and subsequent success.
Vernon and I is a two-act musical with a minimum cast of eleven. Many of the songs are drafted, and we’re currently looking for a musical director to help bring them to the stage. Please get in touch if you’re interested in being involved.
‘The Castles are a neglected duo – which seems very strange when so many others have been highlighted. They were the greatest dancers and teachers of the 20th Century and responsible for Ballroom dance as we know it today. Their story will have universal appeal with the present ballroom boom (which looks set for a very long time). I feel that you have chosen the ideal time for such a project. I enclose the Castles’ technique book, and with it go my sincerest good wishes in the certain knowledge that it will be of the highest calibre and a credit to the whole world of dance.’ DAVID ROBERTS, Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Alliance of Professional Teachers of Dancing