Friday, 31 August 2007

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Big Brother?

Well this years Big Brother is finally drawing to a close. Somehow I can’t help wondering what it would be like if it hadn’t been the likes of Chanelle, Charley, Samanda and Brian who had been in the house this year…..what if the housemates were more……well……musical?

Day One
Day one in the Big Brother house. The first housemate to enter is, former nun, Maria Von Trapp. She is bursting with confidence, but then again, a house with nine new house mates, what’s so fearsome about that? Maria is closely followed by Joseph, Dolly Levi, Tevye, Eva Peron, Effie Melody White, Oliver Twist, Sweeney Todd, Henry Higgins and Little Orphan Annie. As usual the housemates are overwhelmed by the new house and its splendid colour scheme. It was purple and white and pink and orange and blue. After a first night feast of handcrafted beer made from local breweries, some yoga, and yoghurt and rice and beans and cheese, they finally get to bed.

Day Four
Big brother surprises the housemates by asking them to nominate for the first time. Up for eviction are Tevye and Joseph. . Joseph he annoys his housemates but what makes them mad are the things that Joseph tells them of the dreams he often has. Somehow the idea of them bowing down to them isn’t so appealing. Tevye has been heard in the garden declaring to himself what he would do if he were a rich man. It seems that the two men both have their eyes on the prize.

Day Eight
The housemates are sitting on the sofa as Davina announces that Tevye is the first housemate to be evicted from big brother. It seems the public are decidedly unimpressed at the footage of him fiddling on the roof.

Day Eleven
This weeks task is for the housemates to form a coconut orchestra. Due to the indisposition of Miss Eva Peron her role in this weeks task will be performed by Miss Roxie Hart. Due to the failure of completing the task the housemates find themselves with basic rations of gruel.

Day Twelve
Maria decides to make everyone outfits from the house’s curtains. As a punishment the housemates have their suitcases confiscated “until further notice”

Day Thirteen
Oliver is struggling to cope with the basic rations and goes to the diary room where he imploringly asks “Please Big Brother, can I have some more?” Annie is finding it too much of a hard knock life too and the two orphans bond, helped by Dolly who is determined to push them together.

Day Fifteen
Joseph is horrified to be evicted in Maria’s curtain outfit, rather than the clothes in his suitcase that he was saving for the eviction. He demands “Give me my coloured coat, my amazing coloured coat!”

Day Sixteen
Despite her blossoming friendship with Oliver, Annie is still distressed by the lack of food and the “curtain situation”. Sweeney suggests that a “nice new bob” might cheer her up. He takes her to the bath room to give her a trim but returns alone, saying that Annie has decided to leave the house. Big Brother makes no comment.

Day Eighteen
A new housemate, Mrs Johnstone, is brought in to replace Annie. Possibly literally, as she is pregnant with her 17th child. Dolly immediately tries to fix her up with Henry.

Day Nineteen
Tempers flare as the housemates are asked to participate in a pop group task. Effie is determined to be lead singer, however Eva has different ideas. “I want to be dazzling, they need to adore me” she cries and takes centre stage.

Day Twenty Two
It came as no surprise when Eva and Effie found themselves nominated for eviction. As Effie’s name is called, by Davina, she reacts badly and yells “I’m telling you I’m not going”. Eva merely says “Goodnight, and thank you whoever” as Effie leaves the building.

Day Twenty Three
As a punishment for discussing Jason Robert Brown, Eva and Sweeney are forced to listen to the London cast album of Saturday Night Fever.

Day Twenty Six
Mrs Johnstone nominates for the first time, but she finds it difficult. “Don’t make me choose, they’re a team they go together” she begs. But choose she must.

Day Twenty Nine
Oliver is evicted.

Day Thirty Two
The housemates begin an elocution task. Henry Higgins takes it upon himself to assist everyone else but finds it difficult. “In ‘Ertford. ‘Ereford and ‘Ampshire” begins Eva, and Henry asks “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?”.
“Gorgeous!” answers Dolly, “I’m American, Eva’s from Argentina and Maria’s Austrian for heaven’s sake!”
“No I’m not, I’m welsh!” interrupts Maria, “Although occasionally I do feel a little Irish!”

Day Thirty Three
Eva is still bridling from Henry’s rudeness “Just you wait ‘Enry ‘Iggins” she mutters as she enters the diary room to nominate. Later Dolly unwisely tries to smooth things over by suggesting they have a romantic meal for two.

Day Thirty Six
“Wave your little hand and whisper so long dearie, you ain’t gonna see me anymore” says Dolly as she becomes the fifth person to be evicted.

Day Thirty Eight
Mrs Johnstone is accused of being “controlling” for taking over most of the domestic duties in the house. The housemates are particularly upset with her commandeering the shopping list and Maria’s request for schnitzel and noodles falls on deaf ears. Instead they have to endure steak and kidney pies. “These are probably the worst pies in London!” remonstrates Sweeney.

Day Thirty Nine
Mrs Johnstone is trying to eradicate a particularly stubborn red stain from the bathroom floor when Sweeney walks in. “Have you ever considered a peroxide rinse?” he asks. “Like Marilyn Monroe?” replies Mrs J. Sweeney later reports that Mrs Johnstone has left the house.

Day Forty
The Rum Tum Tugger is brought into the house as a replacement for Mrs Johnstone. “What’s new Buenos Aires?” asks Eva. “My dear Eva”, remarks Henry, “I think you may mean pussy cat”

Day Forty One
Henry is evicted from the big brother house.

Day Forty Two
The Rum Tum Tugger is finding it difficult to bond with his new housemates. Could this be because every time someone tries to approach him he runs up the drain pipe and stares at the wall, or perhaps it is his unfortunate habit of “washing” himself.

Day Forty Four
The final task is a music task. Maria tries to teach her other housemates. “Let’s start at the very beginning….Do a deer a female deer.” “Meeow” sings the Rum Tum Tugger, Maria grimaces as Sweeney ominously mutters something under his breath about popping pussies into pies.

Day Forty Five
In an attempt to “bond” with Tugger, Sweeney offers to give his fur “a going over with my clippers.” Eva later asks Sweeney where Tugger has got to. “Surprise midweek eviction” answers Sweeney. Eva suspects that Sweeney has a game plan and takes Maria to one side and warns that there is “evil, ever around!”, strangely Maria answers “Yodeleyeeeeeeeeee”

Day Forty Seven
It’s the penultimate day in the Big Brother house. Big brother calls Eva to the diary room to try to explain how she feels.
“It won’t be easy you’ll think it strange” responds Eva
Next up is Maria –
“My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies from a church on the breeze”
And finally Sweeney
“Well what happened here, well that’s the play and you wouldn’t want me to give it away!”

Day Forty Eight
It’s the last day in the Big Brother house. Eva, Maria and Sweeney are the only remaining housemates as they plan to say so long, farewell. Struggling to find room for the outfit that Maria made Eva asks Big Brother for another suitcase. Maria wistfully muses that her days in the house have come to an end and the lark has come out to tell her it’s time to go. Sweeney begins to pack his belongings but then finds his Carmen rollers and suggests that the ladies might like a new “do” before they leave the house forever……….

Friday, 24 August 2007

Today 4 U Tomorrow 4 Me - 24/8/07

Since I first heard the CD of Rent it has always been a favourite of mine. I even went to an open audition for the original London production believe it or not! I suspect the show itself needs little introduction to you but, for the uninitiated, I present a brief summing up. Basically the story updates La Boheme which told the tale of a group of “artists” as their dealt with the traumas of love, poverty, and disease. Rent relocates the story to late twentieth century Greenwich Village, making some of the story’s couples same sex, and throwing in modern issues such as HIV and drugs. Sadly the shows writer Jonathan Larson died before the official Broadway opening in 1996 (tragically dying of an aortic aneurism during the preview period) so he was not to see the amazing success the show had. It became the show to see, and is still running in New York today where original cast members Adam Pascal and Antony Rapp have recently returned to the roles of Roger and Mark. The show was to prove less successful in London where it initially ran for about 18 months and returned for a short season a couple of years later. However Rent is on its way back.

This time round we are expecting big changes. Due to the early death of Larson very few changes were made during the preview period and subsequent production. Under the helm of (Kylie chum) William Baker we are promised a new look at the piece and (if rumours are correct) it’s relocation to London. I am very intrigued about this as it really is a quintessentially New York piece. However I thought it might be fun to take a (hopefully) humorous look at how the show could be adapted to contemporary London and tackle some of it’s issues.

The story begins on Christmas eve where out of work performers Roger and Mark are working in a call centre selling theatre tickets, worried about how they will pay their rent. They return to their bed sit and wait for their friend Tom Collins. However Collins’ is mugged before he can get to them. Luckily for him a stranger comes to his aid in the guise of Angel – a Kylie Minogue impersonator. Roger is trying to download one great song to his ipod when he is disturbed by a knock on the door. It’s Mimi a teenage lap dancer from Spearmint Rhino, who needs her candle lit to cope with the power cut they are experiencing. Mimi, flirtaciously, is thankful that they at least have the moonlight. Roger suggests it’s not the moon at all “I hear Eastenders is shooting down the street”. Roger manages to get rid of Mimi, and after Mark returns Collins joins them along with Angel who then proceeds to re-enact the video for Can’t Get You Out Of My Head. Mark then finds himself called to the aid of Joanne, current girlfriend of his ex girlfriend Maureen. As he assists her in fixing the PA for Maureen’s performance later that night they argue to a big dance number – The Agadoo Maureen. Meanwhile Mimi attempts to persuade Roger to join her as she gets ready to go Out Tonight to G.A.Y. After he puts her off until Another Day the action segues to a VOTFLSG (Victims of Transport For London Support Group) meeting where the members lament “Will I lose my oyster card, will someone care?”. Collins, Roger and Mark then dream of what they would like to do in the future as they sing “We’ll Open Up a Kebab Shop In Basingstoke”. As the preparations continue for Maureen’s show Collins and Angel declare their love. The scene changes to Oxford Street where a group of hectic Christmas shoppers berate the lack of choice in Marks And Spencer as it begins to snow. So we go to Maureen’s performance. Of course this being London it’s not performance art but it’s a one woman tribute to the songs of Jason Robert Brown. Elated after the performance the cast retire to a local eatery where they celebrate La Vie Boheme and all it’s cultural icons…… “J.K.Rowling, Posh and Beckham too, Jade Goody, me and me, and you and Gee Foo!” Amidst all this cacophony Roger and Mimi share a tender moment when they realise they are both suffering from attention deficit disorder. So ends the first act.

The second act sees great changes in the relationships between the group. Mark had been spotted tap dancing at Maureen’s show and so “sells out” and accepts a job as a hobbit in Lord Of The Rings. Roger and Mimi’s relationship breaks down as they fail to pay each other enough attention and even Maureen and Joanne have problems when they realise that Maureen’s love of show tunes clashes with Joanne’s football fandom. All of their bickering is brought down to earth by the shock death of Angel after a fatal clash with a Britney Spears tribute act. However Angels funeral only temporary calms them all down until they all end up having another big argument. As the show proceeds to its finale Roger returns from a fortnight’s boating on the Norfolk Broads and joins Mark in a rousing song “When you’re living in Kennington, seven years in the millennium”. Mark is sufficiently roused to turn down the hobbit job – particularly when he reads about a new reality TV show to find the next Cornelius Hackle in Hello Dolly- and Roger returns to the difficult task of finding one great song for his ipod. As the show heads to a close Mimi’s attention has wandered to such a point that, after going missing, she is found doing a circuit of the circle line with a carrier bag full of red bull and a heat magazine with Big Brother’s Charley on the cover – having failed to notice her stop. Joanne and Maureen rescue her and take her to Mark and Rogers bed sit where, gasping for breath, she comes round from her trance saying, “I was in a tunnel, heading for Oxford Circus, And I swear Angel was there and she looked like Dannii, and she said turn around girlfriend and go and listen to Roger’s Ipod”. So our couples are reunited and agree that life goes on and there is “no day but today………” And there we have it!

Of course it’s highly unlikely that any of my suggestions for the adaptation will be taken on board. Come on let’s be honest you have just read a rather large amount of preposterous nonsense and I really wouldn’t like to take anything away from this show that deals with so many important issues, albeit in a fairy tale like way. I am sure that, whatever decisions it’s director makes, this new production of a modern classis will be very interesting with much to enjoy. If you haven’t seen Rent before then definitely try and give it a go this time round! If only to find out what really happens. I am sure you will love it!

Well you have two English language recordings to try, the Broadway original or the soundtrack. Both are great and the principal cast is almost identical. The only real difference is that the movie soundtrack doesn’t have quite all the songs, but the ones that aren’t included are rather superfluous excluding many of the brief phone calls set to music etc that can prove rather grating. Also the movie soundtrack includes a new song – “Love Heals”. The movie itself is great, and I feel improves on the show anyway.

In Closing
No room at the Holiday Inn
Did you go to the cat scratch club?
In a thousand sweet kisses I’ll cover you

Monday, 20 August 2007

Tracks 53-55

53.“Love Don’t Need A Reason” (Malamet/Allen/Callen ) BARBARA COOK
If I didn’t manage to sneak a Barbara Cook track into this project then something would definitely be very wrong with the world! Of all the performers I love (and there are many) there is nobody I have seen perform live as often as Barbara Cook. It must be at least a dozen times, maybe even more. So many of her songs have touched me , and the lyric of this one is very much something I believe in…so it is rightly included here. I thing I will dedicate it to the civil partnership ceremony that my uncle and his partner of many years, Chris, had – as they both love her too. It was a lovely day shared with many of the cast of “The Woman In White”, the friends and their kids. We went on the train from Richmond registery office to a Joe Allen lunch in Covent Garden. Then those of us remaining headed to the Thames to try and spot the whale. Yes it was the day of the Whale in the Thames. The day , at least for me, ended with my first “flight” on the London Eye – by dark!

54.“Theme From Doctor Who”(Grainer)
As a very small child I watched the end of Jon Pertwee’s era of the television show, but then I lost interest when Tom Baker took over. 1981 saw a BBC2 season of stories called “The Five Faces Of Doctor Who”. For some reason I have often become drawn into things just because they are long running, and this was enough to get me watching. For the next three years – throughout Peter Davison’s tenure – I was an avid viewer, and it was only the advent of Saturday jobs and proper jobs that saw my viewing tail off again. I went through a period of getting the odd video in the nieties but then I got UKGOld – a new vintage story each week and it was only a matter of time before I was well and truly who’d out. Then the series returned to our screens a couple of years ago and since then I have become a bit of a Who anorak! I buy the vintage DVDs, the occasional novelisation and even (horror of horrors!) the magazine! Anyway when it came back it was amazing – I find the series takes me on a real emotional journey…and when the cybermen (my favourite villains) were announced as returning I couldn’t believe – only one more thing could top that , Elisabeth Sladen reprising her role as Sarah Jane Smith – then not only did it happen but she was given her own spin off series. True Who Heaven!!!!!

55.“Song For Ten” (Gold) Neil Hannon
I make no apologies for choosing this song from the Who soundtrack (yes I bought that too!) Ostensibly about what it was like for the Doctor on the first day of his regeneration it’s a song that speaks to me of many days I have had. “I Wish today could be just like any other day” now you would think that was because it had been a crap day, but no! “Today has been the best day!” Sometimes we have such amazingly wonderful days, almost always because the people we spend them with, that we want to hold on to them for ever. Lisa and Jon’s wedding, as well as Joe and Nicks and Simon and Chris’s – all great days. My Joe Allen’s birthday brunches of the last few years, holidays in Paris with my mum….even holidays alone in Paris. All times I cherish!

Friday, 17 August 2007

I Feel Pretty And Witty And Gay 17/8

As this week sees the release of a new recording to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of West Side Story it seems a good time to dip my toes into the world of the Jets and the Sharks. The show is, of course, an updating of William Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet. For Big Brother’s Brian (“So who is this Shakespeare geezer?”) I should point out that Shakespeare is regarded as Britain’s greatest playwright and he is not a film director or anything else for that matter. Although Brian and Charley really weren’t Romeo and Juliet, it could be said that, the rivalry between Charley and Chanelle was quite often on a par with the Montague and Capulet feud! And maybe Carol for the nurse and Seany as Friar Lawrence? Oh my god! Big Brother is taking over my mind, I am supposed to be talking about West Side Story……

Phew, let’s get back to (un) reality! Originally conceived as East Side Story and dealing with the rivalry between the Jews and the Catholics in New York the show brought together a group of musical theatre’s giants. Book writer Arthur Laurents, producer Harold Prince, composer Leonard Bernstein and director-choreographer Jerome Robbins are all now considered Broadway legends. Also joining them, writing the lyrics, was Stephen Sondheim making his professional debut. Of course by the time the time the musical premiered it had been retitled and the Montagues and Capulets had become the Puerto Rican “Sharks” and the more waspy “Jets”. West Side Story was one of the first Broadway musicals to focus on teenagers, with the adults being very much minor characters. From the comedy of Gee, Officer Krupke to the energy of Dance At The Gym, via the touching balcony scene, the show presents a rich portrait of teenage life. Indeed, the subject matter was revolutionary for it’s time and, within the plot and Sondheim’s lyrics, touched upon sex, drugs and lots of violence. As with many of Shakespeare’s plays, much of Romeo And Juliet has resonances with modern life. Likewise, West Side Story, with it’s relocating of the story to fifties New York, with it’s rival gangs, remains very topical today in a year that has seen several gang related deaths in the London area.

After the show opened it became the stuff of legend, the contributions of all it’s collaborators being incredibly innovative. For instance would it have had the same impact without Jerome Robbins’ breathtaking dance? I don’t know. Despite the groundbreaking achievements of West Side Story it was not 1957’s biggest hit, that honour (along with most of the years “Tony” awards) went to the more traditional The Music Man. However, a young Chita Rivera was honoured with an award for Best Featured Actress as the original Anita. It was possibly the 1961 film version of “West Side Story” that cemented the musicals place as one of the all time greats. Featuring Natalie Wood, then a big draw, as Maria (although she and most of the other performers were dubbed by other singers) the film was a resounding success. Even today it’s a truly stunning film. It was actually filmed on the streets of New York, on a number of streets due for demolition, and seeing the choreography of Robbins on those streets is particularly effective, really giving the whole movie an authenticity that adds to it’s impact. Incidentally, a few years later New York's Lincoln Centre rose from those avenues that had seen the Sharks and Jets fighting on them previously. So the streets that echoed with the sounds of one of the world's greatest musicals now echo with the best of the performing arts at this prestigious venue.

Of course I haven’t really mentioned the music yet. The demanding score features many songs that have become very well known such as Tonight, Something’s Coming and I Feel Pretty. Other highlights include the musical duel that is America and the anthemic Somewhere. The score has become much loved over the past fifty years and thanks to it’s great vocal demands is often performed by opera singers. It’s for this reason that many of its recordings feature well known, yet miscast, names from the opera. In fact when Bernstein himself conducted a recording of the show he chose Jose Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa to lead the cast. Naturally they sang it beautifully, however they both sounded far too old and Carreras’ heavy Spanish accent made him sound more like a Shark than a Jet! Bernstein’s music also lends itself particularly well to Jazz so when acclaimed jazz musician Dave Grusin recorded an album with many of his contemporaries (and Gloria Estefan) it came as little surprise. However opera performers do seem to dominate new recordings and the fiftieth anniversary recording is no exception. As Maria, the light soprano of Hayley Westenra is very effective and it’s refreshing to hear a performer of the right kind of age in the role. Vittorio Grigolo has a beautiful tenor and sings wonderfully, however he does sound a little too old to play Tony and sounds far too Latin, like Jose Carreras. Even though the score sounds better than ever in this new recording I would relish the opportunity to hear it performed by more theatrical, rather than operatic, singers. Happily, the supporting players do sing the roles more like you would expect to hear them on West End or Broadway stage, in fact our very own Connie Fisher gets to sing the solo Somewhere. Connie does a great job on the track, it’s a very individual take on the iconic number and in places it is very moving.

It’s almost ten years since West Side last played in London but I would hope that it’s a show that will return to the West End at some point in the coming years. Iconic as the original production was, it’s a show that is ripe for re-interpretation and it would be nice to see it done with a new vision… direction, choreography, sets and even orchestrations….after all they were brave enough to try it with Oklahoma!

Now back to what I was saying….Gerry could be considered a bit like Tybalt but……

I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad recording of West Side Story from the original Broadway Cast to this brand new one they all have their merits. As well as the versions I have mentioned, several songs were recorded by German tenor Peter Hoffman and his American wife Deborah Sasson on the album “Bernstein On Broadway” which often turn up on Bernstein compilations these days. These are probably my personal favourites. Ten years ago an album called Songs From West Side Story was released with an eclectic group of pop and country stars including Natalie Cole, Trisha Yearwood, Aretha Franklin and even Little Richard. It’s a different and unusual take with differing results which only serves to illustrate the versatility of Bernstein’s work. Around the same time the Pet Shop Boys released a very different version of “Somewhere” too. Of course the movie is fantastic so the film soundtrack is always going to be worthwhile, but you could do a lot worse than buy the new recording. The orchestra sounds fantastic!

In closing
Only you, you’re the only one for me
You are psychologically sick
So smoke on your pipe and put that in

Monday, 13 August 2007

Soundtrack - tracks 50-52

50.“Being Alive” (Sondheim) from “Company” BARBRA STREISAND
“Someone to hold me too close, someone to hurt me too deep” This is the song that possibly explains what I hope for more than anything. In a relationship I just want it all! The good stuff, the bad stuff – just stuff! Sondheim wrote it for a character who is still single in his mid thirties whilst all his friends seem to have couple off! Therefore I feel perfectly entitle to call it my own! Along with Ms Paige’s “Losing My Mind” this recording is also responsible for kicking off a life long love of all that is Sondheim too!

51.“April In Paris” (Harburg/Duke) ELLA FITZGERALD
Paris has become a big part of my life in recent years. I kind of wish that I had begun my love affair with this magical city when I was much younger and may have decided to uproot there for a while. However, lottery wins aside, I doubt I will be buying my Montmartre apartment any time soon! Although I have never spent April in Paris it was on a recent visit that I hopped into my cab back to the Gare Du Nord, only to hear Ella on the radio singing this song. It seemed the perfect way to end a wonderful holiday.

52.“Numb” (Warren) PET SHOP BOYS
I want to feel numb, I just want to close the door…..Shocking news can have this effect. I know that there were moments when all I wanted more than anything was just to close off and feel nothing. Sadly I don’t think the numbness appears quite when you want it to, and in those times of severe shock feelings can be all too acute. Although actually having the feelings is much healthier so I should be grateful I guess!

Friday, 10 August 2007

I Love to Cry At Weddings!

Well, for those musical theatre aficionados amongst you I suspect you think I am going to be writing about “Sweet Charity”. In fact this is one of those very rare columns when I don’t mention musical theatre at all. So what then is the subject you may ask? It’s what I got up to last weekend.

I have known, my friend, Jackie for over twenty years. Back in our teens we would do that thing which teenagers did back in the days before ipods. We would sit in Jackie’s bedroom and play each other records, discussing the deep meanings that they held. Jackie introduced me to Suzanne Vega and Alison Moyet, whilst I played her Elaine Paige and Barbra Streisand. Sometimes we would pop down to Whitwick chippy, often pretending to be “Dempsey and Makepeace” and singing the theme tune. Jackie decided that I was Harriet Makepeace and she was Dempsey. Add to this the time when we got marooned at Coalville clock tower in the early hours of the morning, with Jackie dressed as an assassin and me as a (female) Greenham Common peace protestor, and it was a foregone conclusion that our lives wouldn’t take the conventional route!

Over the years Jackie and I have been around during each others bad times, and also the good times, so it was particularly nice to share last Saturday with her. The happiest of occasions.

This happy occasion was of course her civil partnership ceremony where she committed to her partner Sarah. I must admit when Jackie first told me about Sarah, for one reason or another I thought it was a bad idea, and told her so! However, the first time we met, over a pizza, I knew I was wrong. Sarah is intelligent, forthright and has a cracking sense of humour, so of course we got on excellently. Not only did I warm to Sarah pretty much immediately, but it was clear that she was having a really positive effect on Jackie. Jackie had always been a little shy and Sarah was managing to draw her out of herself. In fact since being with her, Jackie has really blossomed. As a couple they balance each other perfectly with the Jackie’s kindness and caring and the Sarah’s gregariousness and pragmatism they make a winning combination, and are very lucky to have found each other. In fact, as Barbra Streisand herself might say, these two people are the luckiest people in the world. I did try to think of a Suzanne Vega lyric (honest!) but they all seem a bit – well, vague.

Civil partnership’s between same sex couples are still very much a new thing. Obviously the legal implications are ground breaking and in terms of “rights” they go a long way towards achieving equality in many different areas. However I feel that the real achievement is that a civil partnership can give couples the opportunity to make a commitment in front of their family and friends in much the same way as a conventional wedding. The joy of a civil partnership ceremony (if you choose to actually have a ceremony of course!) is that they aren’t tied up in the tradition and paraphernalia of a heterosexual wedding. Beyond the signing (and witnessing) of the contract you more or less have free rein to make what you will of the day. I am sure that some couples go for a straight forward traditional wedding, but of course you can just take what elements you like. The symbolism of rings is something that I suspect many will choose to retain for instance. For Jackie and Sarah, although they eschewed a traditional reception in favour of a relaxed afternoon in the garden for all their friends and family, they kept the wedding cake and champagne! Phew, you can’t miss out on cake and champagne can you? Really! In this respect we are in the position that we can start our own traditions, and maybe in time there will become an “accepted” way to conduct things. My hope is that, rather than mimicking a heterosexual wedding, the way forward is to make civil ceremonies very individual events. It’s the second I have attended and both have been very different. For the first it was Joe Allen’s and then on to the London Eye by night, and for this second one it was a relaxed buffet and booze in the scorching August sun. The first was simple and brief, the second came with music and readings. There are no rules, and I hope that is how it remains. A celebration of a couples love, commitment and individuality. Confetti optional!

It was certainly a privilege, as a witness, to be part of their big day – even if I did get a bit confused about the rings! I wish Jackie and Sarah, and indeed all those others pioneers who have taken advantage of this legislation, much love and luck! Whatever you choose to call it – a wedding, a civil ceremony, a partnership, it’s certainly something that feels right

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The Soundtrack of My Life - Tracks 46-49

Well it's been a while but I am back with more from "The Soundtrack of My Life" ......

46.“I Love Paris” (Porter) DORIS DAYAnd I really do! I would sing this to myself as I wandered the streets of Paris in November 1992 – the first time I visited. It really was the winter went it drizzles…which really didn’t matter as I felt immediately at home there, as I still do. I have since returned around seven or eight times and I have really become a Parisphile!

47.“All The Things You Are” (Kern/Hammerstein) CURTIS STIGERS
In 1997 within ten days of each other I lost my great grandma, and my Tante Leni. Two of the most important people in the world to me. The song is ostensibly a love song but it was a line from it that I chose to put on the flowers for Grandma. “You are the angel glow that lights each star, the dearest things I know are what you are”, this perfectly fits my feelings for both of them. And also for Violet! The flowers I chose for Grandma were daffodils, as I often used to visit her on a Saturday and take her a bunch. I only have to see daffodils to be reminded of her. ….

48.“Here Today” (McCartney) PAUL MCCARTNEY
Another dead dad song! I decided to separate this from the earlier ones rather than to bunch too many potentially depressing songs together! “And if I said, I really knew you well, What would the answer be?,If you were here today….” The whole song tells it’s story simply yet succinctly. It’s often a question you ask of yourself with reference to someone you have lost. It particularly deals with questions of love, and how well you knew each other, both pertinent issues in connection to the relationship I had with my father. The song also emphasises remembering the good times rather than dwelling on the negative.

49.“Wunder Ge’schehen” (Dehmel/Kerner) NENA & FRIENDS
Well I have mentioned before that I have become a fan of Nena over the last few years even though the vast majority of her work is recorded in the German language. This is a re-recording of one of her earlier hits that she released for Germany’s “Red Nose Day” – yes they actually call it that! My German is by no means fluent but the songs lyrics talk of being unhappy, and restless and having nightmares. Basically life being crap! However, according to the songs title, miracles happen. This is a gorgeous song with sentiments I truly do believe in. As I have said before, in the darkest of hours there is always light.

Friday, 3 August 2007

A Monkey On A Pedestal 3/8

Well I have seen the future. Frankly it’s frightening. The year is 2037 and I am sitting alone in my flat. On the antique CD player is my battered old copy of Chess and in my mind I see Murray Head and Elaine Paige dramatically performing an argument set to music as dirndl clad chess pieces polka behind them like whirling dervishes…….


As you may suspect the truth is in fact that I have been to see The Drowsy Chaperone. Another case of a hit Broadway import failing to have the same success in the West End. This is such a shame as it really is one of the most ridiculously silly shows I have ever seen, although the silliness is balanced out by another really touching story – that of the “man in the chair”.

So let’s start with the ridiculously silly. The Drowsy Chaperone is a very funny spoof of all those twee musicals that populated Broadway and the West End in the twenties and thirties. This was a time when the stories were slight and the songs didn’t need to make sense within the context of the plot. Long lost brothers, mistaken identity, and novelty dance numbers would all feature and invariably the shows ended with either a proposal or a marriage. Romance was the cornerstone, and many songs still popular today such as Funny Valentine and I’ve Got A Crush On You all began in these inconsequential shows which provided the pop songs of the day. If an actress was starring who was known for singing grand opera arias they would b included, indeed if a performer was hired who happened to play the spoons then that may well have been introduced into the show – whatever talents they had would be utilized regardless of the suitability to the story. You only have to seek out a few of the cast recordings to realise that it really was the age of silliness in musical theatre! This show embraces those musical comedies of the twenties and thirties with brilliant effect. It really does tap every bit of comedy possible through it’s eccentric cast of characters and witty score. Even the shows big romantic number is hammed up for all its worth – but with a title like Monkey On A Pedestal it’s hardly surprising! The score isn’t by any stretch the best you will hear but it does achieve what it sets out to by lovingly sending up the Broadway of a specific era.

So what about the man in the chair exactly? Sitting alone in his apartment and playing an old record of The Drowsy Chaperone he tells us, the audience, all about this show he has never seen as the characters come to life before him. He seems to have quite a sad story. He lives alone, has a failed marriage behind him and is besotted with a young performer in the show who he only actually remembers as an old man – not the young dashing roller skater of twenties Broadway. The mundane daily occurrences get him down, as he ignores the telephone because it interrupts his listening. His only pleasure is listening to these old albums and imagining what the shows would be like. On the surface this sounds like a rather sad existence as it’s hardly a life anyone would aspire to. However, he gets such joy from these records that maybe it’s not quite so depressing after all. There are many people who, theoretically, have much more fulfilled lives who never realise the joy that this un-named man experiences. These elements counterpoint the whimsy of The Drowsy Chaperone very touchingly and its almost a case of it going from the sublime to the ridiculous! Possibly the nicest thing about The Drowsy Chaperone is how the show was born. The combination of all it’s elements certainly lead to a thoroughly satisfying evenings entertainment. Originally conceived as a wedding present for Bob Martin (the original man in the chair) the idea just grew over a period of years, as it was gradually expanded to a fully fledged musical. Sadly the show hasn’t really flourished in London – and if you have not seen it already the chance is you won’t as it closes this weekend. In New York it was a different story of course where it was the big winner at last years Tony Awards.

I have never really been a fan of Steve Pemberton who had taken over the role of the man, but in this performance he was excellent and conveyed a real pathos. Elaine Paige, in the title role, played against type in this rare comedy appearance that allowed her to send herself up in a multitude of ways, and in As I Stumble Along she had the shows catchiest number. The real find of the show is Summer Strallen, as our ingénue, who proves to be a real triple threat singing and dancing up a storm, in a performance totally in synch with the era it lampoons. I suppose all that is left to say is that I hope you are amongst those who got to see this delightful night of nonsense!

The Broadway cast recording is available but without seeing the show it’s a difficult score to love. However you could seek out the shows that inspired Drowsy and listen to one of the old shows by The Gershwins, Cole Porter or Irving Berlin – many of which have been re-recorded over the last ten years or so!