When the Netflix series “Bridgerton” debuted on Dec. 25, 22-year-old singer-songwriter Abigail Barlow and 19-year-old pianist Emily Bear binge-watched the entire show in a matter of days, as did as did millions of other households, making it Netflix’s most-watched original series.
But, within the show — which is set in Regency Era London and follows the elaborate ruse-gone-wrong of Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page) — Barlow and Bear found a wealth of musical inspiration.
Perhaps it was due to the show’s own soundtrack by the Vitamin String Quartet, featuring classical covers of Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish, or maybe it was the red-hot drama that unfolds during its eight episodes, but Barlow immediately felt that the concept belonged on a Broadway stage.
“There are just so many pieces of dialogue in this show that write songs themselves. It’s just so poetic in the way it’s written,” Barlow tells Variety. “So as soon as I finished binging it, I just kept picking all of these little moments that are so iconically written in the show and started developing this idea.”
The particular piece of dialogue that started it all was spoken by Lord Henry Granville (Julian Ovenden), who is revealed to be in a secret relationship with Lord Wetherby (Ned Porteous). Unable to be with his true love at a ball, he tells Benedict Bridgerton (Luke Thompson): “You have no idea what it’s like to be in a room with someone you can’t live without, and feel like they’re oceans away from you.”
This motif sparked “Daphne’s Song,” of which Barlow posted a snippet to TikTok on Jan. 10. A simple piano ballad, the song explores Daphne’s emotions when she begins to fall for Simon in the midst of their faux romance. “I can’t even drink champagne/ No, without seeing your face/ Am I the one to blame?/ When we’re dancing in the same room, but you’re an ocean away,” Barlow sings in a breathy mixed voice.
Although that first video currently stands at an impressive 1.5 million views, the song that truly sent the concept into viral territory was “Burn for You,” which Barlow posted that same day. Inspired by the steamy scene in episode 5 in which Simon tells Daphne “I burn for you,” the song is a passionate duet with plenty of tension built in.
“If this is what you call a honeymoon/ Pacing round our separate rooms/ Running from our elaborate ruse/ We’re doomed,” Barlow sings as Daphne in the beginning of the song. But the mood shifts in the middle with Simon’s revelation, leading to a beautiful and yearning vocal run on the word “burn.” “Burn for You” has garnered 4.5 million views thus far, along with over 759,000 likes and 14,600 comments.
After Barlow had fully processed the insane reaction to her first two videos, she knew she couldn’t do the rest alone. So she recruited Bear, a former child piano prodigy who calls Quincy Jones her mentor and has spent the last 10 years studying orchestration and composition at Juilliard and New York University. Ironically, the two had actually first met working on another musical theater project, but something about this “Bridgerton” idea felt different.
“We both have written with so many different people since and before we moved to L.A., but nothing has quite felt like this,” Bear says.
“It’s special. It feels magical when we create together,” adds Barlow.
The duo says the fact that they have a yin yang quality — and were friends before they were colleagues — has made their collaboration extremely rewarding.
“I know both of us have been in rooms with like, huge songwriters and artists and everything, and there’s something to say about being in the room with someone who is close to your age and you don’t feel like one or the other has, like, a serious leg up,” Bear says.
Since forming the partnership, Barlow and Bear have written nine more songs, with a 10th almost finished. The compositions include songs for the characters Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan), Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie), opera singer Siena Rosso (Sabrina Bartlett) and Lady Violet (Ruth Gemmell), the matriarch of the Bridgerton family. Similarly to how the Vitamin String Quartet gave modern-day pop songs a classical flair for the show’s soundtrack, the two are striving to make pop music that feels like it could be from the Regency Era.
“I do think that the pop music set to strings, all of the modernized pop music in the show, it created almost a genre of its own,” Barlow says. “It allowed me as a pop writer and [Bear] with lots of education and a pop writer in her own right, to be able to sit down and be like, ‘How do we infuse pop into this Regency Era project, in a way that almost goes unnoticed but makes you feel like you’re part of the experience?’”
Bear adds that she believes the combination of classical instrumentals with pop melodies will win over both musical theater fans and a more mainstream audience.
“We’re writing a song right now for the Queen called ‘Entertain Me,’ and the string part and the bass of it sounds almost straightforward classical, but then we have pop elements and a pop melody,” Bear says. “It’s a nice little balance, because you’ll have the musical theater geeks who are like, ‘Oh this is dope,’ and then also the mainstream audience who’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve never liked musicals before, but for some reason I like this.’”
And boy, do the people love it. As Barlow and Bear have continued posting TikToks of their new songs and progress, people from all over the world have posted videos of them singing along, choreographing a dance or suggesting cast members.
Reposting this INCREDIBLE CHOREOGRAPHY BY @elchoreography because WHATTT 🥺😭😭😭 #bridgertonmusical
Barlow and Bear say they have taken everyone’s suggestions in stride, tweaking and adding to their own compositions. They even started doing livestreams on TikTok and Instagram documenting their songwriting process, allowing “Bridgerton: The Musical” enthusiasts to have even more of an input.
“You get to see the highs, the lows, the a-ha moments and the moments where we’re absolutely stuck,” Bear says of the livestreams. “And some people love to help with that, so the audience of ‘Bridgerton: The Musical’ has also been a huge help in helping us write it, which is so magical.”
Beyond the mainstream audience, Barlow and Bear’s idea has gained recognition from Samantha Barks, who portrayed Éponine in the 2012 film adaptation of “Les Misérables,” as well as a large percentage of the “Bridgerton” cast and Julia Quinn, the author of the “Bridgerton” novels.
“We’ve heard from Nicola Coughlan who plays Penelope, Phoebe Dynevor who plays Daphne and Luke Newton who plays Colin,” Barlow says. “Julia Quinn has reached out to us and is wowed by what we’re doing. The support is absurd and what we needed to be like, ‘Okay, this is something that could go the distance.’”
But Barlow and Bear are sure that none of this could have happened without TikTok and its unique quality of championing creativity.
“It definitely couldn’t have happened on any other platform. I think there is sort of a pocket that I’ve found on TikTok, even before ‘Bridgerton,’ of just really creative, talented people who have not been discovered yet,” Barlow says. “I mean, ‘Ratatouille,’ for example, was such a huge, huge thing that raised so much money and discovered so many incredible talents. And I think that is very, very specific to TikTok. I think even on YouTube, it’s hard to break through the noise. But on TikTok, the algorithm’s so specific that if one person sees your stuff and thinks you’re great, the rest of the world will be able to see it too.”
Bear adds: “The fact that we can reach so many people and talk back and forth with them and discuss ideas and thoughts, it’s like we’re workshopping it instantly. And we’re reaching people that we’d never be able to reach on any other platform.”
As for what’s next, Barlow and Bear keep mum, but say that both a concept album and Broadway are possibilities.
“We have a lot of different options right now, because not only have people been paying attention, but now also the executives are paying attention,” Bear says.
“We’re trying to keep our wits about us and finish the project as well, just so that we have something solid to share with people,” Barlow adds. “But the dream, of course, would be Broadway. Wouldn’t that be nice, if the world opened back up and we could put on ‘Bridgerton: The Musical?’”
Beyond writing and composing the music, Barlow has hopes of starring on the stage herself, as Daphne.
“I sort of started writing from Daphne’s perspective, and I feel like I am a hopeless romantic and very naive like she once was,” Barlow says. “I feel like I can definitely tap into that character, so you know, who knows, maybe? That’d be great, that’s the dream, too.”
But no matter what happens with “Bridgerton: The Musical,” Barlow believes the world of theater post-COVID will be a more inclusive place, in part because of the ideas that have sparked from TikTok.
“It’s a very exciting time for music and for musical theater,” Barlow says. “It’s just, the gatekeepers that be are kind of no longer in power. The people have the power, and that’s an exciting thing.”