Professor Works to Adapt ‘To Catch a Thief’ into a Musical

Published: July 17, 2023 | Author: Abbie Cochrane | Read Time: 5 minutes

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Peter Sham, associate professor of theater arts at Southern Utah University, has been commissioned to be the book and lyric writer for the new musical adaption of David Dodge’s best-selling novel, To Catch A Thief. Originally adapted into the 1955 film starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this adaptation is expected to arrive on London’s West End and New York sometime during the next few years.

“I was so in love with these characters and I was excited to find the musicality within them,” said Sham. “I love writing roles for people who I imagine as the characters. I know it’s going to be a very talented cast.” 

Taking place along the French Riviera, the story follows American acrobat John Robie, once famously known as “Le Chat” who performed a series of cat burglaries along the southern coast of France in the 1950s. After retiring to the country, a copycat burglar reopens the case of Le Chat, and it’s up to Robie to find the thief and clear his name before the police catch him. 

“I loved the story immediately,” said Sham. “So much in the book is so clear; of course, it’s a great mystery, and it’s number forty-six in the Top 100 Romances in the American Film Institute. But, I think the biggest takeaway is the identities we all have and the masks we all wear; most importantly it’s about knowing who we really are.” 

Currently, Sham has completed the first full draft of To Catch A Thief: The Musical. As the show progresses in its development, Sham eagerly anticipates revisiting his work for the revision process. Sham plans to follow the show well past its ascension to the West End and Broadway, making revisions and attending auditions in the future. 

Along with reading the book, watching the film, and listening to the radio show, drawing inspiration involved lots of research about the time period. 

“I used an Oculus to visit the French Riviera from my office,” Sham explained. “I also did a lot of research about famous cat burglars, gymnastics and roulette– (as it’s played differently in France) –and I also read a related David Dodge novel: The Rich Man’s Guide to the French Riviera.” 

The first original musical that Sham wrote was It’s a Dog’s Life: Man’s Best Musical, which premiered in 1983 at a singing waiter bar and later made it to New York–ironically before Cats: The Musical. He was later commissioned to write the book and lyrics for Lend Me A Tenor, which opened at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and was picked up by producers. The show went on to open on the West End in 2007. 

Sham was commissioned to write the book and lyrics for To Catch a Thief  by the producer he worked with for Lend Me a Tenor. Sham is working with composer Kevin Purcell, who previously worked with SUU’s sister school, Central Queensland University. To Catch a Thief: The Musical is Sham’s latest writing accomplishment.

“I’ve worn so many different hats in this industry. Although it’s the hardest thing in the world to write a musical, I feel like I was born to write this,” Sham said. “I’ve never been so excited about a project in my life and it’s so fun to say that. This was the first project that I didn’t hit a wall during the writing of Act 2–it’s like I was channeling something as I wrote.” 

Sham hopes to bring his students along to see the show in its early stages of production, and see first-hand the inner workings of how a show is produced on a stage on the West End or Broadway. 

“My favorite part of teaching is definitely the students,” Sham said. “There’s nothing more exciting than to watch my students see how theater is connected to everything, and how it breathes differently across centuries.” 

The most important thing that Sham hopes to convey to his students is the community that comes from devoting individual talents to a project bigger than any one person. 

“I want my students to see the joy that comes from creating something that brings so many people together,” said Sham. “It’s easy to get cynical in this time; there’s so much stress. Theater is something that brings people together from all walks of life and it can create joy that lasts even when the curtains are closed and the lights are dim. Besides, there’s nothing like enjoying what you’re creating–it’s like being a kid on Christmas. I want my students to be influenced by how fun it is to create on any stage.” 

In addition to teaching at SUU for almost 18 years, Sham is also an accomplished regional actor, artistic director, and writer whose work has been revered by audiences and producers for over thirty-five years. Having earned a Master’s degree from the University of Delaware, Sham has pulled experience both from a collegiate theatrical background and a regional performing background. He even started his own theater company–and several more companies after that. Since then, he’s participated in twelve seasons with the Utah Shakespeare Festival; a partnership that’s endured thirty years.

SUU has one of the top theater arts programs in the state, providing students with professional training to help them get jobs in the arts industry following graduation. SUU is proud and grateful to have so many talented and accomplished theater professors that coach the students. Learn more about SUU’s Theater, Dance, and Arts Administration Department.

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