Thursday, 3 May 2007

The Inspirations Project - Part One

The Inspirations Project - part one – let’s start at the very beginning!

“Joy, colour, passion, poignancy, richness, humour, and LOVE being offered to the audience with spectacle and light to transport them into another world for a few hours. The audience then has an emotional "hang-over" long after the show is over. A great musical stays with you for a long time.”

So says Anne Kerry Ford as she describes what musical theatre means to her. She manages to sum up what we feel, as a member of the audience, beautifully. Musical theatre, and indeed the arts in general, inspires and influences us in many ways, but what of the performers we see in the shows? What are their influences and inspirations? Well, that is what I have set out to discover in this new project. With this eclectic group of contributors from both sides of “The Pond”, who have answered a group of questions via email, I will hopefully shed some light on what moves them and, indeed, what shapes them as performers. Certain names such as Barbra Streisand, Barbara Cook and Stephen Sondheim seem to crop up more than once, as indeed do particular shows - “Les Miserables”, “Sweeney Todd” and “The Light In The Piazza” for instance. But what first sparked an interest in the delights of, what used to be referred to as, Musical Comedy for these performers? – well let’s see…….

For my first question I asked Was there any particular musical that made an impression on you, fuelling a desire to work in musical theatre?

“Absolutely!” Answered Matt Harrop “I guess I remember, most of all, listening to Sweeney Todd when I was a young teenager….I was bought the CD for my birthday, as I already had an interest in musical theatre, but that CD changed everything for me! I sat down to listen to the first track, and I just remember thinking how amazing that opening number was, the big chorus, and the dramatic ending with Sweeney and Lovett singing….and I sat there and listened to the whole musical from beginning to end, and was completely taken in by it. I really remember the twist at the end, and being completely blown away by that – not only because it took me completely by surprise, but also because musically it just worked so well. I didn’t know why or how Sondheim did it. I just knew, for me, that he absolutely did!”

AJ O’Neill “ In my early years my parents played Les Mis more than was strictly necessary. I remember knowing that I wanted to be in it, but not that I knew it so well, but freakishly when I saw it at about 18/19 I knew all the words. Les Mis was just the best example of a musical ever - it had all the types of songs and they were all catchier than in other shows. Or at least I thought so at the time. I remember that I never considered the possibility of actually doing them. Also Chicago (which A.J. is currently performing in) had a huge effect 'cause I think my parents did it during my early years. Cell Block Tango rings a particular bell.”

DC Anderson “My first experiences with musicals were the musical films - The Music Man, The Sound of Music, Bye,Bye Birdie - I was enthralled - and then my older sister brought home original cast recordings from the library - introduced to them by her 7th grade music teacher. Again - I couldn't get enough of them. The voices - Barbara Cook in particular - warm, wonderful, great storytelling instruments... I knew it was something I had to do.”

For Anne Kerry Ford it was seeing some legendary performers that first piqued her interest!
Anne Kerry Ford “I grew up in Fort Worth Texas, and when I was very young my parents took me to New York, where we saw three musicals, Hello Dolly (with Carol Channing), Oliver, and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. All three were absolutely phenomenal. Hello Dolly had the MOST memorable score, Oliver had KIDS in it, and Streisand was, well, Streisand! I was determined to be in musical theater after seeing those three; my fate was sealed. I listened to the cast albums until I wore them out. Some years later, seeing Godspell off-Broadway fueled my passion for musical theater even further. I couldn't imagine doing anything else with my life at that point.”

There were two musicals in particular that impacted on a young Maureen McGovern “I was 11 yrs. old when I first heard the score to West Side Story and saw the movie seven times! I memorized everyone's part and, in my living room, I'd become Maria, Tony, Bernardo, Anita, Riff, The Jets, The Sharks -- singing and choreography full tilt! The King And I was a beloved musical of mine and I knew I was born to play Mrs Anna! That childhood dream came true when I played Mrs Anna in the recent Broadway National Tour of The King And I! I have rarely had such a perfectly grand time on stage. Great music, gorgeous costumes, absolutely wonderful cast.” (See top)

Susan Egan “I always responded to unusual shows. I never really wanted to be Annie -- I wanted to be Fredrika in A Little Night Music. I loved Man Of La Mancha, anything Sondheim, Evita. Funny choices for a child. I think these shows moved me because the characters were discussing things of importance. These were plays with music. Not the frivolous stories that you imagine musicals of being. Of course, I enjoy those, too, and tend to make my living doing those types. But the ones that made me fall in love with the art form were the darker shows.”

So D.C. Had already began his love affair with the musical well before he actually saw one on stage, and when it came to the stage it was also a far cry from Little Orphan Annie
DC “The first stage show I saw was Hair - a 12 year old child watching all the naked bodies race through the theatre, thinking I could NEVER be able to be naked in front of strangers... but I knew from the publicity that this was a special event. I really couldn't follow the 'story' in Hair - it wasn't until I was 14 and saw the high school production of Carousel that I experienced a true 'book' musical 'live' , loved it too!!”

For West End performer Caroline Sheen, her first taste of theatre in general came from a very different direction as her parents “were involved in the massive cult that is amateur dramatics.”
Caroline Sheen” I was brought up with them doing a different Gilbert and Sullivan show every month. There is even cine film of my dad abducting me, as a babe in arms, dressed in his pirate costume from The Pirates Of Penzance. I think all their shows I experienced, when I was young, had a profound effect on me. The music, the colours, the costumes – the wonderful topsy turvy world they presented created a magical living piece of theatre that I was completely smitten with. I particularly liked Iolanthe, Pirates and The Mikado. The society always did something different with the shows ( Iolanthe was set in a Victorian brothel – all the fairies were prostitutes!)”
But what of seeing a fully fledged West End show for the first time?
“I was eleven, it was Chess. The scale of the production and the amplification of the music – basically all the production values amazed me. The music wasn’t bad either!”

So let’s go back to D.C. Anderson and Anne Kerry Ford, we know now what piqued their interest – but let’s find out specifically what it was about the shows and movies that really struck a chord.

DC “The Music Man - watching Robert Preston entice an entire town with Trouble. The Sound of Music - loved the combination of intriguing (true) story, beautiful singing, romance, and the 'event' of it all - when I was a kid it was a 'reserved seat' movie – we had to reserve tickets months in advance..”

Anne “I was so young, it was probably the sheer energy coming off of the stage when people sang and danced. I think that I intuitively understood, even as a young girl, that the character who was singing (or dancing) was in a heightened state of emotion. It was thrilling to me and I loved the beauty and the energy of this kind of expression. Plus, those three musicals had some unforgettable characters in them and the stories were told in such a rich way with the sets and the lights that the whole production was a world you could slip right into. I was transported completely. I personally never questioned the reality of someone singing to someone else... they were just having a big emotion! And the overtures were so exciting! I knew something wonderful was about to take place when I heard the orchestras play those overtures.”

Maureen McGovern took a little longer to break into musical theatre than our other contributors (there was the small matter of a successful recording career getting in the way!) so it was as an adult that she experienced a further show that had a profound effect on her.
Maureen” I sat in the very last row of the Shubert Theater and saw the first Broadway National Tour of A Chorus Line in 1977 in Los Angeles. It was the lowest period of my career. After a million selling, Oscar-winning, Gold record in the early 70's, I found myself flat broke and couldn't get a record deal. When Cassie sang The Music and The Mirror I saw my whole life pass before me. I literally sobbed all the way home. Fast forward to September 29, 1983........ Joe Papp had recently given me my first Broadway role as Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance. He invited me to see the record breaking performance #3389 that made A Chorus Line the longest running musical (at that time) in Broadway history. THIS TIME, I sat in the 4th row, next to Meryl Streep, and witnessed Michael Bennett's brilliant adaptation of his own classic, A Chorus Line. It was one of those moments that makes you so glad you're alive and able to witness something so magical. There is nothing like "live" theatre!”

So it would seem that, be it in amateur productions or family outings, parental influence can have a huge impact on what sparks a performers initial interest in theatre. But what of their influences as they grow up and begin performing themselves? Well, we will find that out next time but, before we go I feel one very important question remains unanswered.

The household handy hint!

Matt Harrop "Get that washing out on the line it smells so much better, and gives a real pleasure everytime!!"

Maureen McGovern "To keep uninvited little critters out of clothes in storage, put two "Bounce" dryer sheets in a small, open plastic bag and place it inside the garment bag. Works like a charm!"

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