By Maureen Lee Lenker
February 12, 2021 at 09:14 PM EST
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It all started with a simple question: What if Bridgerton was a musical?

When Abigail Barlow asked this question and then answered it with an original song, "Ocean Away," she sparked a viral hit that spread like wildfire across the internet. Teaming up with her writing partner and musical virtuoso Emily Bear, the two have become a sensation, posting new songs and glimpses into their writing process on TikTok and Instagram.

"It was inspired by a line of dialogue in the TV show that really inspired me, and it was basically poetry the way the dialogue is written, so I wrote the first song, 'Ocean Away,' and that's how it came about," Barlow tells EW.

"It truly has every element you'd want for a Broadway show," adds Bear. "Abigail texted me the night she started 'Ocean Away,' and was like, 'Oh, my God, Emily, what if Bridgerton was a musical?' and I had the same exact reaction as the rest of the world, which was, 'Oh, my God, yes.'"

In a little over a month, they've already penned 14 original songs, based on the hit Netflix series Bridgerton. The fan response to the first tune propelled Barlow and Bear to jump into crafting a full musical.

EW welcomed Barlow and Bear to our Instagram to perform a sampling of their songs, including numbers they've written for fan-favorite characters Eloise (Claudia Jessie) and Penelope (Nicola Coughlan), as well as Daphne (Phoebe Dyvenor) and Simon (Regé-Jean Page) love ballads "Alone Together" and "Burn For You."

Their music has inspired others, sparking concepts for set designs, choreography, and even potential Playbill covers. Not to mention the performers, like Broadway stars Joshua Henry and Samantha Barks, who've put their own spin on the songs. "Seeing the reach that our music has had is crazy," says Bear. "We're seeing idols we've been looking up to for years sing our music, and we're just sitting there like, 'Is this really happening?'"

The process has already started to become inadvertently collaborative with people they've never met. EL Choreography, a group run by two sisters, has been creating choreography for the songs, and they devised dance moves for Penelope's track before Barlow and Bear had even finished writing it. The imagery of the character dancing with the shadows helped them craft the rest of the song.

They've also found inspiration in a myriad of musical references, including the operatic storytelling approach of Stephen Sondheim, the pop-classical mash-up of Bridgerton's Vitamin String Quartet covers, and Bear's own experiences composing overtly "cinematic" music for film and television.

With the power of the internet (and TikTok in particular), they've crafted a veritable hit organically, bypassing the long closed-door workshop and development process more traditionally expected for new pieces of musical theater. "The process is so gate-kept. The shows are gate-kept too," Bear notes. "If we can somehow lift that curtain or start to lift it a little bit more than it has been before and show the people the process and not hide the ugly parts, then [that feels like a win]."

Barlow admits that the pandemic has removed barriers in many ways. "We've shown that it works and it can be a really great way to build an audience from the ground up," she says. "I feel like a few years ago, Netflix probably would've sent us a cease and desist for what we're doing, but I think in a time like this, it is so important to have a creative outlet."

For now, the show is continuing to be developed, with real-time input from fans, live on social media. But that's certainly not the end of the Bridgerton musical story (let's just say, it's the ballroom on the way to the wedding). "The world has been watching and that also means a lot of executives have been listening in," teases Bear. "We've been approached by some very exciting people with some very exciting opportunities."

Barlow and Bear are still deciding what path makes sense next, but they want their Bridgerton music out in the world in some form, whether that be a concept album, a virtual presentation, or a stage musical. "At the very least," notes Barlow, "We will say it is the most possible right now for the concept album to be released, so we're working on finishing it so we can get it out to you guys."

They already have potential dream casting in mind, no matter what form it takes, including Patina Miller as Lady Danbury, Cynthia Erivo or Audra McDonald as Queen Charlotte, and Barlow herself as Daphne.

But no matter who ends up playing the roles, it's looking like a musical version of Bridgerton will get the happy ending it deserves.

For a sampling of Barlow's take on Daphne and more on Bridgerton the Musical, watch the clip above.

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