Thursday, 4 December 2008

Really Useful People - Uwe Kroeger

So far my pursuit to find “Really Useful People” has brought you a Welshman, An Australian and an American. This edition sees me heading to Europe (metaphorically) to chat to German born leading man Uwe Kroeger who began his career as the first German speaking “Rusty” in “Starlight Express”. Later roles include the German premier of “Sunset Boulevard” and recording the role of the Phantom for the German release of “The Phantom Of The Opera” movie. Possibly Germany and Austria’s biggest musical star, Uwe also played lead roles in the original productions of German language musicals “Elisabeth” and “Mozart” and until the end of 2008 is playing Maxim DeWinter in “Rebecca” at Vienna’s Raimund Theatre. West End audiences may also have caught Uwe at the Shaftesbury Theatre a few years ago where he shared the the title role in “Napolean”. Uwe’s next role sees him premiering the new Frank Wildhorn musical “Rudolf”, one again at Vienna’s Raimund Theatre where it opens early in the new year.

You have been performing professionally for some twenty years now, but can you remember your very first acting role, even if it was in a school play?
Interestingly enough, I will always recall the Christmas play at kindergarten where I played Joseph, the father of JC. I was five, or even younger, and I only had one sentence: “Come In” , but I was so proud and nervous about it and thought it was the most important moment of the play.
What I mean is, that until today I believe in the importance of each and every word or moment on stage whether you are the lead or the last person in the last row.

What was the first musical you ever saw, and did this inspire you to pursue a career in musical theatre?
Well, it was actually the film “Fame” which inspired me most. The idea of one school where you could train, and try all kinds of stage skills, was so fascinating that I wanted to give musicals a shot.

What other shows have influenced you?
I think “Les Miserables” should be on the priority check list of each musical performer. No other musical is teaching you the importance of “One for all and all for one”. It brings singers, actors and dancers together and each of them is able to extend his horizon. Great emotions, intriguing story, beautiful music and a warm-hearted message to take home with you.

And which people from the world of musical theatre have inspired you?
Difficult to say, each colleague of mine had inspired me in one way or another over the years.

Early in your career, you were the first German “Rusty” in the Bochum production of “Starlight Express”, do you have any particular memories of this time?
Yes, of course. I was the first German speaking “Rusty”, although (the) understudy, but still surrounded by international, mostly English speaking, artists. I felt overwhelmed and privileged at the same time. I lost my toenail during rehearsals, due to “too small” shoes, and I was part of a wonderful fairy tale. Hard School!

Bringing it full circle, this year saw you appearing as judge on “Musical Show Star 2008”, where the German public voted for a new “Rusty” and “Pearl” for the Bochum production. How did you find this experience?
I think an audience can barely understand what it really takes to play certain roles on stage. I don’t think they can judge whether (a performer) is capable to play the role up to eight times a week or not. They can only judge from their heart and how much they like the person on TV. But in the end we, as judges, didn’t decide – it was the audience. Having said that, I think we found a wonderful new German “Rusty” and I am glad the girl took my advice to go back to school first, ‘cause at the end of the day you have to train and learn your stage skills from scratch.

As well as “Rusty”, you have also played leading roles in several more of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, which of these roles have you most enjoyed?
I enjoyed and learned the most from playing “Joe Gillis” in “Sunset Boulevard”. Not only is it a wonderful story adapted from a brilliant Hollywood movie (but) I was also able to use and show everything I had. A fantastic mixture between acting and singing and a great challenge to bring a spoken word smnoothly to a song. This is musical (theatre) at perfection, I think! I have learned so much and I am grateful I was chosen to do so.

2004 saw you singing the role of the “Phantom” on the German soundtrack album of “The Phantom Of The Opera” movie. Is this a role you would like to play on stage, and indeed are there any other roles in Andrew’s shows you would like to perform?
In fact I have played the role – in 2006 in Essen, after the movie was out. So actually a dream came true, ‘cause after the movie and being honoured to give my voice to Gerard Butler I really wanted to play it live. Another fantastic story and beautifully put on stage.

Stepping away from Andrew’s work what have been your other career highlights?
The three roles in the world premieres of Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze in Vienna:
1992 “Death” in “Elisabeth”, Empress of Austria.
1999 Collerado in “Mozart”
2006 Maxim De Winter in “Rebecca”
and of course the German speaking premieres of “Burrs” in “The Wild Party” (2003), “Chris” in “Miss Saigon” (1994) and “The Beast” in “Disney’s Beauty And The Beast”(1997), AND “Napoleon” in the West End production of “Napoleon”

Yes, of course, a few years ago you appeared in London’s West End in Napoleon at the Shaftesbury Theatre. How did you find your time here? Is there a difference between German and London audiences?
I had the time of my life, learned a lot and I realized that there are good and bad actors, good and bad productions everywhere and it was good for me to see it with my own eyes. Colleagues were extremely nice and supportive towards me and the audiences seemed to like what a “German” Napoleon did on stage. I met one of my best friends there, Sarah Ingram! What more could I want? A great first time.

I am a regular visitor to Germany myself, where no visit is complete without going out for schnitzel at Café Klingler in Nurtingen (near Stuttgart) or getting a big bag of Paprika Chips! Were there any culinary experiences in London that you missed when you returned home?
Well, I love Christmas pudding and scones! J

If you were not an actor what job do you think you would have?
I don’t know. Maybe a teacher or doctor?

Who, outside the world of theatre, has inspired you?
My boyfriend: He is a doctor and this is his true calling. He loves to help people and doesn’t stop to find answers and medical help. I admire him!

What makes you really happy?
An open fireplace, a good wine, good food, my friends around me, a great performance and a smile on my partners face.

What makes you really sad?
If people are greedy and lazy on stage. Their bad vibes backstage can ruin the productive flow of a show. We are so blessed to be able to do what we do. We should be thankful. I don’t understand this attitude. That makes me sad.

Norma Desmond or the second Mrs De Winter?
What a silly question! J
I would love to play Joe Gillis again, although Norma is not the right person to share your life with, while “I” – the new Mrs De Winter – would be the love of Maxim’s life.

Berlin Or Vienna?

Which musical theatre song best describes you?
Wow! Difficult question! I don’t know! I don’t think in these terms.

To quote Bob Dylan, “How many roads must a man walk down before it makes him a man?”
Life is about learning and growing.
It probably means we will always have to walk, until the end!

And finally do you have a handliche haushalt tipp to share?
Yes, for singers who travel a lot and have to sleep in hotels: A wet towel each night over a chair next to your bed (close to your face) prevents dryness! Try it!

And so my interview with Uwe draws to a close, for further information on Uwe please take a look at his (German language) website All that remains is to thank him very much and wish him a happy last night in “Rebecca” and great success for his next project “Rudolf”

Monday, 17 November 2008

Off With Her Head!

“I’m Henery The Eighth I Am, Henery The Eighth I Am I Am”. Well, actually I am no such thing and don’t pretend to be. Neither, for that matter, did Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits as he sang the preceding lyric back in the sixties. However, as happens every now and then Henry VIII and indeed all things Tudor seem to be capturing everybody’s imagination once more.

Historical fiction both in print and on the screen seem to be big business right now, and it’s no surprise that the period that seems to appeal most is that of the Tudors, in particular Henry and his daughter Elizabeth I. With the Showtime series about Henry, “The Tudors”, and last years blockbuster movie “Elizabeth – The Golden Age” , alongside a plethora of novels by Philippa Gregory and others it’s very easy to fall under the spell of this turbulent period in British history. In equal part glorious and bloody, the entire Tudor era is one that continues to fascinate audiences through the decades. With current events seeing the worlds battlefields influenced by religious matters it’s often quite timely to take a look back at a bygone age when matters of faith were also the cause of so much bloodshed.

Sadly despite the production values of “The Tudors” it does seem to be particularly “creative” in it’s relating of the story. Henry’s sister Margaret is ignored, and his sister Mary is renamed Margaret to avoid confusion with his daughter Mary. This is a shame as the stories of both sisters were actually quite fascinating and would have been great additions to the series. Cardinal Wolsey commits suicide even though this was not the case and countless other characters (or historical figures?) find their stories and the events around them tweaked and twisted. Henry himself is even portrayed as a young man when he would have actually been knocking on a bit. However if you take the show for what it is, historical romp, it’s really entertaining and if nothing else has the ability to inspire you to explore the real history for yourself.

Likewise the immensely readable novels of Philippa Gregory, which although presenting a skew-whiff version of events are always an entertaining read. More satisfying though would have to be the classic historical novels of Jean Plaidy that have been recently re-published which, after comparison with legitimate biographies, seem to present a closer interpretation to real events. Her “Murder Most Royal” is one of the best of the genre for my money.

So the screen and the bookshelf have been flooded with successful evocations of Henry VIII and his progeny. Strangely, despite countless popular straight plays the musical theatre has never really managed to turn the same subject matter into a hit. In fact “Camelot” aside – which of course is the stuff of legend not historical fact – I am hard pressed to think of many musicals which have dealt with British royalty at all. In fact the only show I can think off that dealt with Henry VIII was a spectacular flop!

Back in 1976 I am sure that hopes were high for “Rex” which opened at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre that April. With respected actor Nicol Williamson in the lead and music by Richard Rodgers “Rex” certainly had the credentials to be a hit. However, hit it wasn’t and lasted a mere 48 performances making it one of the biggest disappointments of Rodgers’ long and successful career. It’s said that the main reason for the show’s short life is probably down to the fact that Henry is such an unsympathetic character. I can kind of understand that, but to shoehorn 40 odd years of history into one evening of musical theatre must have been quite a feat too. Sadly, having listened to the score, I don’t think that “Rex” was Rodgers’ finest hour musically either. Aside from the curiosity of an early musical appearance by Glenn Close it doesn’t really have much to commend it. The one saving grace is the lovely song “Away From You” that Sarah Brightman covered back in the eighties. I think the true lesson to be learned is that some things just don’t lend themselves to musicalisation. It’s often said that some stories just don’t “sing”. Maybe the tale of Henry VIII is one of them.

So on this occasion I am not going to suggest you head to HMV and buy this or that Original Cast Album, but get thee to a nunnery – oops, bookshop and explore some of the many historical novels that are currently doing the rounds. Perhaps when it comes to musicalizing the Tudor’s we should look to that classic of British cinema that delighted 1970’s audiences in all of it’s inaccurate glory….”Carry On Henry”. Now that would be something to see!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Here's One I Made Earlier

I have always been a woman who arranges things……no that’s Dolly Levi, what I mean to say is I that I have always been a sucker for nostalgia. Taking that into account 2008 has seen me getting all nostalgic for two television shows that were a huge part of my childhood.

Recently I was quite saddened to hear that “Grange Hill” had drawn to an end after thirty years and thirty one series. Of course it’s many years since I gave up watching this once controversial hot bed of secondary school drama. I believe it was after Pogo Patterson and Suzanne Ross graduated that I decided I was “too old” for the children’s hour soap and, let’s face it, the latter being played by Susan Tully in her pre-Michelle Fowler (EastEnders) years, that’s quite a wee while ago now. It was back on my ninth birthday that the series debuted and I became serially addicted to the exploits of Trisha Yates and Tucker Jenkins (Played by Susan’s EastEnders “brother” Todd Carty) . I can vividly remember some of the early story lines, and was almost tempted to get the box set on DVD a while back. However good sense prevailed and I bought “Smallville” instead so haven’t gone down that particular route of reference just yet. I suspect that, despite my recollections, the series won’t have worn that well so I don’t expect to revisit Andrew Stanton in Grange Hill’s production of “Joseph!” or Susi McMahon and the scandal of her padded bra any time soon. In the words of later characters I decided to “Just Say No”

At the opposite end of the scale my other childhood favourite “Blue Peter” seems to be going from strength to strength as it celebrates it’s fiftieth birthday. I did make a point of catching it’s celebratory documentary a couple of weeks ago to see what memories it stirred and that really did hit my nostalgia button big time. I’m not quite old enough to remember the glory days of Valerie Singleton (although I do remember her spin off series of “Special Assignments”) but it’s the longest serving line up of John Noakes, Peter Purvess and Lesley Judd that were part of the fabric of my primary school days.

One of my earliest TV memories must be of Lesley Judd as she abseiled from the top of Bishop’s Rock lighthouse to what seemed a tiny boat at it’s bottom. Apparently this counts as one amongst many occasions when Blue Peter presenters have almost lost their lives. I also seem to recall Lesley going on Concorde’s first commercial flight, and then being shown on a live satellite link up from New York. Most impressive – these things just didn’t happen back in the seventies! Also I recall the indignity of when she was off sick from the show and Aunty Beeb sent a film crew round to her sick bed. My over riding memories of her co-presenter Peter Purvess are possibly of him climbing the forth bridge, but also of his emotion at the death of Blue Peter dog Petra and the subsequent unveiling of the statue in her honour. Last but not least was John Noakes with his frequent cries of “Get down Shep!” and his adventurous ascent of Nelson’s Column. Clips of all of these seem to be available at I can’t wait to get a chance to check them out.

Sadly John, Peter and Lesley all seemed to leave around the same time and the show just wasn’t the same without them. Simon Groom stepped in and was often noted for his use of innuendo such as introducing “a lovely pair of knockers” when doing a feature on the restoration of a cathedrals door fittings, then there was the time when an ornithological competition saw runners up win the prize of a mug illustrated with a bird on a branch – or a tit on a stick in Simon’s words. Most of us kids had grown up watching the Carry On movies as well as “Blue Peter” so the innuendo was far from lost on us! Worst of all was when Lesley Judd left and was replaced by Tina Heath – previously best known for playing Lizzie Dripping in a kids tv show. Lizzie Dripping? This certainly wasn’t “Blue Peter” as I knew it. But all good things come to an end, and within the next couple of years my love for “Blue Peter” was superceded by “Grange Hill”. So no longer would I watch, rapt, as John Noakes made the advent crown from two coat hangers, a piece of tinsel and an empty washing up liquid bottle. My days of saving milk bottle tops to buy pit ponies for the Ethiopian donkey derbies were also consigned to the past.

But seriously, the enduring legacy of Blue Peter is what I learnt from it. I don’t think I ever constructed one of their “makes” – the washing up liquid bottle was only ever half empty (or should that be half full?) so I never got to make that rocket. What I did do was participate in a couple of the appeals, such as when it reported on the unfolding tragedies of Cambodia in the late seventies and the entire nation seemed to become one great big bring and buy sale. And yes, I did save milk bottle tops. Remember those? Yes, milk used to come in bottles believe it or not!

The big mystery of the show was “Whatever Happened To Lesley Judd?” she seems to have been away from our screens for over twenty years now. Never appears at reunions or in photo shoots. In fact she has all but disappeared. However the recent documentary finally solved that mystery and the location of my childhood icon was revealed. Lesley has done what we, at the Palladium, affectionately refer to as doing a Plum (for those of us who know Miss Peyton) and has re-located to France where she has renovated a barn etc. and does an occasional bit of conference work. Apparently Lesley feels that she lived her whole life in the seven years she spent on Blue Peter and is now happy to be away from the limelight.

So with that puzzle solved, I ask you to raise your glass (or cup of tea!) to fifty years of the great British institution that is Blue Peter and to John, Peter and Lesley – or who ever “your” particular team was. And may your days be full of sticky backed plastic!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

An interview with Broadway's Liz Callaway

Once again it’s time to meet another of my Really Useful People, this time I head across the Atlantic (if only the trip was for real!) to talk to Broadway leading lady Liz Callaway.
Liz is possibly best known for a Tony nominated performance in the musical “Baby”, being part of the original New York cast of “Miss Saigon”, and “Follies In Concert” at the Lincoln Centre.
She has also voiced lead characters for Disney’s sequels to “The Lion King” and “Aladdin”, and enchanted a generation of children as the singing voice of the animated “Anastasia”.
A prolific recording career has seen her perform on numerous recordings including three stunning solo albums. “The Story Goes On – Liz Callaway On And Off Broadway” is a must have for any lover of musical theatre.
As well as her theatrical credits Liz has a thriving concert and cabaret career, including the award winning “Sibling Revelry” which she performed with her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway, at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre.
Last but not least, Liz was a long standing Grizabella in the Broadway production of “Cats” at the Winter Garden Theatre – which, of course, is what makes her a Really Useful Person!

So without further ado let’s hand over to Liz…

What was your first experience of Musical Theatre?
My parents took me to see Company on Broadway when I was, I think, 9 years old. They had seen the show first and brought home the cast album. I memorized every song on the album. I just loved it.

What was the first role you ever played ? (School shows count!)
I played Lucille in No, No, Nannette when I was a sophomore in high school. I’m grateful YouTube doesn’t have any record of it.

Which shows have particularly influenced you both as a member of the audience and a performer?
Well, Company for starters. I’d have to say Sunday in the Park with George was very important to me. I saw the first preview of the original, and went back to see it again two more times. I also got to play Dot in a regional production of Sunday. I think it is a very moving piece. Baby was my first big part of Broadway (I played Lizzie,) and that was the most important show in my career.

I have the hardest time answering this question. Earlier in my career I’d say Eydie Gorme, Pamela Myers (from Company) Barbra Streisand. Now I would say Barbara Cook, for her artistry and longevity, and Meryl Streep - not just as an actress, but especially as a fellow working mother.

You had a particularly long run as Grizabella” in the Cats at the Winter Garden on Broadway – do you have any particular memories of this time – and exactly how long were you in it?
I did Cats on and off for 5 years. I loved playing Grizabella, and I also loved being part of such a wonderful ensemble. I practically raised my son backstage, when I wasn’t on stage, I’d be on the floor playing trains with him, or I’d be giving him a bath. If the audience ever knew….Of course it was an honour to sing Memory night after night, but I also enjoyed the challenge of dancing in the opening number. I called my character in the opening Mahoovna. Whenever I had friends come to the show and they said they couldn’t find me in the opening number- that was the biggest compliment. It meant I didn’t stick out too much!

If you could play any role in any Lloyd Webber show which one would most appeal?
Hmmmmmmmmm. Actually I love creating roles, so I’d have to say that I’d love to do a brand new show that he wrote. That said, I would also love to do Song and Dance.

Male co-star?
I wouldn’t mind Hugh Jackman!

I was lucky enough to see you and your sister Ann Hampton Callaway performing your “Sibling Revelry” act at the Donmar a few years back. I even particularly remember a very clever “recovery” when you lost your ear ring! What are your particular memories of working in the West End?
I can’t believe you remember I lost my earring during the show! Ann and I had a great time working at the Donmar. The London audiences were so welcoming, and the Donmar was a fantastic venue for our show.

Is there any chance of you coming back, either with or without Ann to perform further engagements?
I would LOVE to come back to London, with or without Ann. Can you get me a job, please??? Seriously, I am looking for a venue to do a solo concert in. I recently performed a solo Sondheim concert in Barcelona, and would love to do that show in London.

Back to your side of “the pond” - for any of us taking a New York break are there any must-do’s that we may not have thought of?
I always think it’s great to walk around NYC without a plan. There are so many unexpected discoveries to be had, if you don’t have your nose in a map or guidebook.

What song do you most enjoy singing?
Meadowlark by Stephen Schwartz

You have quite a varied career performing in musicals, animated movies , concerts and cabaret, and also a prolific recording career – which aspect do you find most satisfying?
I love doing it all, and I’m incredibly fortunate that I am able to do it all, but if I had to pick one thing, I would say recording.

What are the personal highlights of your career so far?
There are too many to list, but Baby, Cats, Spitfire Grill (Off Bway), Anastasia… I could go on and on.

If you weren’t a performer what would you be?
A sports journalist, (I love sports) or I’d make an excellent travel agent.

What makes you really happy?
Being with my son and husband, cocktails on a roof deck anywhere in Europe, and a good night’s sleep.

What makes you really angry?
Being charged $25 for a second suitcase at the airport.

Cats or dogs?
I’ve always been a dog person, but 4 years ago I got a long hair Persian named Lennie. I am totally smitten. I have many more photos of Lennie on my phone than of my family.

Old Deuteronomy or The Rum Tum Tugger?
Old Deut.

Any future projects you would like to share with us? I hear whispers of a recording of a forgotten Rodgers and Hammerstein musical…..
Yes, I am on a new recording of Allegro to be released in January 2009. Next week I am going into the studio to begin recording a new solo CD. I am finally going to record Memory! And this Christmas, I’ll be at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. performing The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber!

To quote a lyric from “Baby” – “What Could be Better?”
Obama as our next president.

And finally, do you have a handy household hint to share with us?
You left the hardest question for last. Never throw out over ripe bananas. Break them into small pieces and put in freezer bags. Anytime you want to make a smoothie, instead of ice, use the frozen banana chunks. Is that a household hint?

….and on that note many thanks to Liz Callaway – for more info about Liz you can check out her website Also don’t forget to check out her “The Story Goes On” CD – it’s great and includes her version of “Meadowlark” that she mentions

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Tooby Ooby Walla

Full frontal nudity. I can’t believe I just said that…….Full frontal nudity. Oops I did it again! Well this column is not usually somewhere you find that sort of thing and no, don’t worry, you are safe to scroll down to the photo – no nudity there. In all honesty just as such a thing is rare here it is also rare on the musical stage – but with some notable exceptions….

2008 sees the fortieth anniversary of, that most celebrated of exceptions, “Hair”. Despite having originated Off-Broadway the previous year it was in 1968 that this ground breaking musical debuted on the Great White Way, and indeed in London. Every now and then a show comes along that has a seismic effect on theatre and this trailblazing “tribal love rock” musical seemed to rock the genre to it’s foundations. Long on passion, yet short on plot, “Hair” is a snap shot of a post second world war generation that was striving for change and rebelling against the relatively young Vietnam War. The sixties had seen a sexual revolution happening as well as hard drugs becoming more common place – not to mention the civil rights movement. All of these elements were part of this era defining show and all of them were embraced in one of the most joyful and infectious pop rock scores to hit the boards. And it was practically the first!

As I have said the show is pretty short on story and the only real plot thread is the dilemma of Claude - whether he should be drafted or refuse to fight along with his friends – but with such a great bunch of songs who needs plot?
The show begins with the wonderful “Aquarius”. After all, the late sixties were indeed the dawning of the age of the Aquarius if astrology is to be believed. Also a year later was the dawning of me, an Aquarian, so the song has always been a favourite of mine.
Right at the start of the show we are confronted with a whole list of sexual taboo’s in musical form with the list song “Sodomy”, and only minutes later we get a celebration drug culture with “Hashish”.
Race was brought to the fore with songs such as “Coloured Spade” and “I’m Black” - and delightfully later in the show with “Black Boys/White Boys” where three white girls espouse the attractions of black men followed by a Supremes-like trio who eschew the “chocolate flavoured treats” in favour of “a pretty juicy white boy”. Of course these days political correctness would probably prevent such lyrics, but back in 1968 they were presented in an innocent way, and also one which celebrated our differences.
“Ain’t Got No” and “I Got Life” continue to be popular thanks to Nina Simone’s ever played version, and “Frank Mills” had a new lease of life back in the nineties when The Lemonheads recorded a version of it. “Frank Mills” is a whimsical little love story that contains the memorable lyric “ I love him, but it embarrasses me to walk down the street with him”. Bizarelly touching!
The wonderful protest/heartbreak song “Easy To Be Hard” is another highlight along with the uplifting “Good Morning Starshine” and the sombre “Flesh Failures” which merges into the effervescent “Let The Sunshine In” when the cast tends to invite the audience to take to the stage.

So bookwriter/lyricists Jerome Rado and Gerome Ragni, along with composer Galt MacDermot conjured up one of theatres biggest hits ever.
It ran for 1750 performances on Broadway where stars such as Diane Keaton, Ben Vereen and Keith Carradine were amongst it’s many casts.
Legend has it that the London run, at the Shaftesbury only closed after 1997 performances because the theatre roof fell down. Many of the London cast went on to become big names in the arts, Paul Nicholas, Richard O’Brien, Tim Curry and Elaine Paige all went on to create iconic roles in other musicals during their careers.
Further afield, the German production saw future disco diva Donna Summer in it’s cast.

So yes, all of the above participated in the full frontal nudity if you are wondering. As stage nudity goes, it has to be said that, “Hair’s” is particularly innocent with them merely entering the stage singing of beads, flowers, freedom and happiness. However it still courted controversy for this scene in it’s day.

There is an adage that great musicals don’t just get written but they get re-written and “Hair” was no exception as it’s journey continued new songs were added and changes were made. Therefore, it was a little odd that when it was revived at the Old Vic in 1993 starring, the now ubiquitous, John Barrowman it was rather too faithful to the original. The revival failed to capture the public imagination, where despite the energetic performances it was felt that the cast didn’t really get what made the characters tick.

Of course most of us know “Hair” best because of Milos Forman’s movie version of 1979. Some of the songs were ejected, and a more structured plot was introduced along with making some of it’s character’s barely recognisable by really only sharing the stage characters name and nothing else. For instance, as played by Beverly D’Angelo, Sheila Franklin was no longer a radical peace protestor and was instead a high society debutante.
The famous nude scene is not even featured – the nearest we get are some buttocks bared during a skinny dipping sequence.
The movie is not without it’s highlights though and has much to enjoy.
Twyla Tharp’s choreography is stunning. Seeing horses “dance” on their hind legs in Central Park as Ren Woods sings, for my money, the best ever version of “Aquarius” is just one stunning moment. Quite how she choreographed horses is beyond me but the human beings get ample time to shine too as her creativity is unleashed through the films two hours.
Another highlight of the movie is Cheryl Barnes. It is said that Cheryl was working as a maid when she accompanied a friend to an audition. Of course Cheryl got the part and gets to sing a devastating “Easy To Be Hard” in New York’s Washington Square. It’s this location and Central Park where the majority of the action takes place and this is why the latest revival of the show is of particular interest.

Yes, forty years after it first appeared in New York, and almost thirty after it was filmed in Central Park, “Hair” has returned – and this time to the park itself. Much like Regent’s Park in London, New York has long had an open air theatre – the “Delacorte” - and what better place for a revival of this show.
This concert version opened in July and runs until 7th September so if you are heading to NY then you can still see it. The good news is that it’s totally free! I will leave it to you to discover how to get the tickets. After all if you are going to NY then I am already jealous! I am so not going to make it easy for you!!!!

See the movie! Very cheap on DVD.
I have heard several recordings of “Hair” and they all have their merits. The movie soundtrack has the great versions of “Aquarius” and “Easy To Be Hard” I mentioned.
If you caught Jennifer Hudson in “Dreamgirls” you might like her version of the latter song which is on the 2005 Actors Fund of America benefit recording, along with many of the current crop of Broadways leading performers – including Liz Callaway’s lovely “Good morning Starshine”.
Everyone from Elaine Paige and Sarah Brightman to the Lemonheads have recorded songs from “Hair” and many are worth a listen, however I recommend going camp! Camp? Well, if you get Shirley Bassey’s “Something” album from 1970 you not only get her stunning version of “Easy To Be Hard” but you get Shirley at her most psychedelic as she performs many songs from the late sixties in her own spectacular fashion! Go Shirley!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

So You Want To Be A Nun?

So what is it with all the Nazi’s? I worked for years in the West End without a Nazi in sight but in the last few years they seem to be everywhere. It’s ironic really. There were less than a handful of musicals which included them amongst their characters, and now not only have most of them been produced, but more have been created.

First we had the comedy Nazi’s of “The Producers” and from then on it appeared that London’s theatrical producers well and truly jumped on the bandwagon. “Cabaret” with it’s take on pre-war Berlin has only just recently closed in fact. That show even managed to follow me to Paris where I saw it at the Folies Bergere - albeit in a different production. Of course Nazi’s (and nuns) are much in evidence at the Palladium currently where “The Sound Of Music” has been in residence since late 2006. It is also rumoured that some of the actors on stage as Nazi’s also appear as nuns at different points of the show! The less said about that the better!

Now of course we have two new musicals featuring Nazi’s. Over at the Theatre Royal Haymarket we have Ruthie Henshall singing Michel LeGrand in “Marguerite”. This show also presents us with a quirky piece of casting. Yes, erstwhile Captain Von Trapp, Alexander Hanson - who spent a whole year standing up to the Third Reich, appears to have gone over to the other side and become a Nazi general. Now it goes without saying that he is an actor and obviously only playing a role, but what wonderfully contrasting roles they are.

I am reliably informed that, until recently, there were only four musicals with these elements in the cast. “Cabaret”, “The Producers”, “The Sound of Music” and one so obscure that even I haven’t heard of it. You can’t blame me for being a little bewildered that they (the ones I HAVE heard of) have all been in town within the same period. I seriously suspect that, given the subject matter of “Imagine This” the West End is to have a few more Nazi character’s treading it’s boards before this year is out.

I suppose that this proliferation of show’s does give us pause for thought to remember some of the greatest atrocities the modern world has ever known. We should remember, so that’s no bad thing, but I can’t help feeling that in the world today we need more uplifting show’s. Something that gives us a reason to smile. You get the idea. “The Sound of Music” delivers this in abundance of course and I feel that a large part of this is down to our chorus of nuns. You really can’t beat a comedy nun. They really aren’t comedy nuns, in this instance, but working in a theatre we do see some funny things on occasion. It was shortly after the show opened that I popped next door into the theatre only to become trapped within a group of giggling nuns clutching glasses of what I could only assume was gin. My assumption was erroneous as you may realise. The afore-mentioned sisters of theatrical indulgence had merely left the auditorium (via the front of house) after their opening number and were clutching their glass votive candle holders. I would prefer to believe it was gin but alas that’s just my warped mind!

The unintentional comedy this moment provided me did make a good case for nuns treading the boards. I am sure there are many musicals already featuring them but am at a loss to name many of them, although I do feel the time is right for the sisters to do it for themselves and shine in the footlights. I strongly suspect that, legendary flop, “Bernadette” had it’s fair share of nun’s and I believe that they feature in Maury Yeston’s “Nine” shortly to become a movie featuring Daniel Day Lewis. Mr Day Lewis’s great versatility aside he will NOT be playing a nun!

Back in the eighties the Fortune Theatre saw one of the sisterhood’s finest moments with “Nunsense”. It really was one of the oddest show’s I have ever seen. The plot was basically that the nun’s needed to raise a large sum of money at short notice so were putting on a show. Bizarrely this was because most of the order had been the fatal victims of the cook’s tainted vichyssoise. Luckily for the remaining nuns they had been out playing bingo so hadn’t shared in that particular last supper. Now luckily (by selling greetings cards) they had managed to raise enough money for the majority of the sisters to be buried. However the Reverend Mother had squandered some of the capital on a VCR, and four nuns remained unburied. In the deep freeze no less! It’s no surprise therefore that it’s a really odd show. One of the songs was even called “We’ve Got To Clean Out The Freezer” – and one (rather forgetful) nun had the wonderful name of Sister Mary Amnesia! You couldn’t make it up could you? It really was the strangest, yet hysterical, show and in the US many sequels have followed. But twenty years have passed since “Nunsense” played the West End and what the world needs now is nuns sweet nuns – or at least a new Nun musical. Needless to say, I am not without ideas…..

First off the block is “The Singing Nun”. Back in the early sixties a real live singing nun from (I believe) Belgium had a hit in the pop charts called “Dominique” and it even ended up inspiring a movie starring Debbie Reynolds.

Possibly a better bet, which could perhaps include some breath taking special effects, would be a stage version of Sally Field’s 1968-1969 sit com “The Flying Nun”. It failed to strike gold as a TV show, but if flying monkeys can keep audiences in thrall at “Wicked” then why not a flying nun. The possibilities are endless.

Then of course there is art Sister Wendy Beckett. I am not sure of how this sister turned art critic could be immortalized on the West End stage but it certainly makes for an interesting idea. Even better, why not have a show featuring three all singing, all dancing, nuns? “Once upon a time there were three little girls from the convent, one liked to strum her guitar and sing, one had a taste for the impressionists, and one thought she could fly – well I took them away from that. My name’s……….god?”

Yes I am being quite ridiculous but am not incorrect in suspecting that, following on from all the shows featuring Nazi’s, the day of the nun may be fast upon us. Yes, one of the big rumours at the moment is that “Sister Act” is heading towards the stage. So give it a year or so and we could all be makin’ whoopee with the best of them…..

p.s.Thanks to Anna Keighley for services to nun googling!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

No Me Diga

It’s always interesting to keep an eye and ear pointed towards Broadway to see just what is going on there, and to ponder what shows may make their way to the other side of “the pond”. Of course there are those amongst us that make regular forays to the big apple and see all of the new shows at first hand. I am not one of those people. Boo Hoo. However it’s well known that I am a CD addict so I do manage to discover some of these shows via their recordings. Obviously you can only get an idea of a show through the cast album but, let’s face it, the songs are pretty important when it comes to a musical.
I had high hopes of one of the current crop of Broadway Musicals. With a book by Harvey Fierstein and John Doyle as it’s director “A Catered Affair” is of immediate interest. Add to the equation song writer John Bucchino and I couldn’t wait to hear it. The show marks Bucchino’s first time on Broadway but he has long been a favourite of both musical theatre and cabaret performers in the states. His songs have been recorded by Barbara Cook, Maureen McGovern, Liza Minnelli. and Patti Lupone amongst many others and are always intelligent and witty songs. High hopes indeed.
The show has fifteen songs and three reprises, Sadly despite starry performances from Fierstein himself, Faith Prince and ex “Duke” Tom Wopat, the first ten songs barely improve on “dreary”. It’s a simple story about a couple who want a quick small wedding until their parents decide otherwise and take over. Even having listened to it a good few times these first ten songs fail to command my attention. In fact I am more inclined to give up on them and fast forward. Happily it all changes with the eleventh track, “One White Dress” where Janey (Leslie Kritzer) admits that she was never one of those “silly little girls” who had dreamed of a big wedding and all the attendant pomp and circumstance. Trying on the white dress, of the songs title, turns her head however and she becomes smitten with the idea of a white wedding and all that it entails. It’s a truly lovely song but this part of proceedings is a little late for a first good song! As the show draws to its finale we do get at least three more songs (and the three brief reprises) that have something going for them. Tom Wopat gives a moving performance of “I Stayed” where after stating that everything is “always my fault” strikes back and extols his own virtues! Janey and fiancé Ralph (Matt Cavenaugh) get a sweet ballad called “Don’t Ever Stop Saying I Love You”, and the poignant “Coney Island” between brother and sister, Fierstein and Prince, more or less brings proceedings to a close.
The future for “A Catered Affair” doesn’t seem to bright and it’s easy to understand given some of the failings of the shows old fashioned score. John Bucchino’s work will always be of interest though and something tells me that “One White Dress” is a song that will be used in many a concert engagement or cabaret in coming years.
For the latest Tony Award winning best musical “In The Heights” it goes without saying that the future is much brighter. It’s simple story is of the everyday lives of a group of Latin Americans in New York’s Washington Heights. At it’s heart the show is about dreams and , ironically for a city that many dream of going to, it’s of a desire to escape to somewhere else. The brainchild of Lin-Manuela Miranda who not only wrote the music and lyrics but also stars as Usnavi – who runs a Bodega which is a kind of coffee stand/paper stall, the album is catchy and engaging from the opening bars of it’s opening and title track.
From the very beginning the score evokes a hot day in the city. If I had to imagine the music of an urban summer then most of these sounds would feature in this show. Somehow it combines a current Broadway sound which conjures everything from Jason Robert Brown and “Rent” to “Annie”, with street music and latin sounds. Many of the songs feature a main melody with counter melodies sung in Spanish which are amazingly evocative of it’s setting. Somehow current trends such as hip-hop, r & b, and rap are alongside almost every type of Latin groove that you can imagine. Samba, Tango, Salsa – it’s all there. There really are some great songs. My particular favourite would have to be “Breathe” when Nina comes home from college revealing what a struggle it was. “Inutil” provides her father, Kevin with an opportunity to sing of what it means to be a father and “96,000” sums up the dreams of the entire neighbourhood as they hope to win the lottery- having heard that Usnavi sold the winning ticket. From the dramatic “Enough” to the energetic “Carnaval Del Barrio” and the touching “Sunrise” Miranda’s score is one that really get’s under your skin. Of course having talents like Andrea Burns, Mandy Gonzales and Priscilla Lopez (the original Morales in “A Chorus Line” ) on board it’s hard not to succeed.
I am not sure if “In The Heights” is a show that would work in London as it seems to be so very New York, but if you aren’t planning to go to NY any time soon it’s definitely worth following my example and logging on to order yourself a copy of this fantastic double album. Just find yourself doing a salsa!!!! You never can tell….

Friday, 13 June 2008

Well Well - Do tell!

Ten or so years ago the country, well most of the western world, was in shock. The dreaded event had happened. Yes, Take That had split up! This was by no means the first time that the world was “shaken” by events in the pop industry however. For that we have to look back around fifty years ago to the seismic shock that was felt at the news that Elvis Presley was going to do his national service! As you can imagine everyone was all shook up by this turn of events!

These days the rock and roll era is often featured in stage musicals – we only have to look at current west end hits “Grease” and “Hairspray” to realise that. Back in the late fifties though this was far from the case and it was the afore-mentioned seismic event that was to inspire one of the first musicals to feature “rock and roll”. As early as 1957 producer Ed Padula felt that it was time for rock and roll and indeed “the teenager” to take to the Broadway stage and he signed up composer Charles Strouse (“Annie”) and his collaborator Lee Adams. The writers had only ever written for a handful of revues and were certainly not familiar with writing rock songs but in the course of their “research” Strouse actually managed to write a bona fide pop hit with “Born To Late” for girl group The Poni-Tails in 1958. With the legendary Gower Champion coming on board for his directing debut along with Michael Stewart as book writer by 1960 work on the musical was complete and “Bye Bye Birdie” opened at the Martin Beck Theater for a successful run of over 600 performances.

The show tells the story of Albert Peterson the debt ridden manager of rock’n’roll star Conrad Birdie. Albert’s fiancé, and secretary, Rosie is determined that Albert give up showbiz and become “An English Teacher” so hatches a plan for Conrad to have “One Last Kiss” with a girl, chosen at random, before he joins the army. All being well this will make Albert enough money to pay off his debts. The lucky girl is Kim McAfee so Albert, Rosie and Conrad – with Albert’s cantankerous mother Mae not far behind, head off to Sweet Apple, Ohio - Kim’s hometown - to put their plan into action. From the moment the show begins we know that we are going to get a happy ending but that doesn’t mean to say that there won’t be a few problems before that happens and believe it or not this is more or less all that happens in this slight yet delightful story.

With a mix of (then) contemporary Broadway type songs alongside a handful of tunes with a real rock and roll spin the score of “Bye Bye Birdie” is a joy from start to finish. Ed Padula’s idea of putting teenagers on the Broadway stage happens almost at the beginning, when the “Sweet Apple Teens” take over the stage in the classic gossipy “The Telephone Hour”. The infectious “Put On A Happy Face” is possibly the shows best known song but there are many others such as “One Boy”, “Rosie”, “One Last Kiss” and “How Lovely To Be A Woman”” which continue to have a life beyond the show and, if nothing else, put a big smile on your face. Amongst this cavalcade of catchy tunes I think my own favourite has to be the raucous “Lot Of Livin’ To Do” sung by Conrad and Kim.

As well as becoming a big hit it was “Bye Bye Birdie” that made a star of two of the biggest names in musicals. Chita Rivera had made her mark previously in “West Side Story” where she played the supporting role of Anita to great acclaim, but it was playing Rosie that made her a star. When the show came to London (Her Majesty’s ) Rivera made the trip across the Atlantic with it and of course since then she has become one of Broadways biggest names and has come over to London several times. The big discovery of the show was, without a doubt, Dick Van Dyke. It wasn’t long before he was starring on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” on TV and movie roles were not far behind. Dick returned to the role of Albert Petersen for the movie version (Opposite Janet Leigh as Rosie) which starred Ann-Margret as, a more prominent, Kim. Then “Mary Poppins” happened and the rest is history.

“Bye Bye Birdie” was a big hit in it’s day, and despite it rarely being produced on these shores, remains one of the worlds most performed musicals. With it’s American high school setting and young, largely female, cast it’s the ideal show for regional and school productions in the States. It’s for this reason that in 1995 ABCTV decided that they would make a new television version of the show with Jason Alexander (of “Seinfeld”) starring opposite soul diva Vanessa Williams (who having taken over from Rivera in “The Kiss Of The Spider Woman” seemed quite a good choice) as Albert and Rosie. This new version stayed closer to the stage show than the previous film (which had Albert becoming a chemist who invents speed) although it did introduce a few new songs. Williams was given the lovely “Let’s Settle Down” and as Tyne Daly (“Cagney And Lacey”) was cast as Alberts mother it was only right that she get her own song too with “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. With a supporting cast drawn from televison (“Cheers” George Wendt), Pop (Chynna Phillips of Wilson Phillips) and broadway (Sally Mayes and Marc Kudisch) it’s this energetic and entertaining version that I am most familiar with and it’s definitely a lot of fun.

“Bye Bye Birdie” may well be the product of a more innocent age, but if you enjoyed “Hairspray” it may well be worth seeking out this 1960 show and joining in a chorus of “I love you Conrad, oh yes I do” , as you wait for him to have that “One Last Kiss”

At least four versions have been recorded with the original Broadway Cast Recording being easily available. It is definitely worth a listen to hear an early Chita Rivera showing the star quality that has made her a Broadway legend, and indeed the London cast recording also starring Chita is available too. I would miss out the original soundtrack as it’s not great and the film itself isn’t particularly inspiring. The 1995 TV movie is available quite cheaply through Amazon and (although it does wane a little at the end) is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, I believe that particular soundtrack has been deleted but if you can get it then do, as it’s fantastic!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Really Useful People - Adam Ellis

So what is “Really Useful People” all about? Simply put, it’s a new feature where we get to find out about people connected to Really Useful and/or the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Our first subject is performer Adam Ellis. Adam graduated from Laine Theatre Arts in 2003 and has been in “Barnum”, “Do I Hear A Waltz” and “The Pirates Of Penzance” over the last few years. Most notably Adam has appeared in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express” both in Germany and on the UK tour where he holds the distinction of being the last person to perform the lead role of “Rusty”.

To begin I asked Adam if he could remember the first musical he ever saw, and if this influenced him in pursuing a career in theatre?
Yep, it was Tommy on tour, can’t remember much about it to be honest, but the first west end musical I saw was Miss Saigon at Drury Lane and watching this definitely was the decider that I wanted to be an actor. Just a great cast, beautiful story and Music.

Are there any other shows that had an influence?
When I was auditioning for Colleges here in London I watched Starlight Express and I honestly remember thinking playing Rusty would be my dream part.

What do you recall of the first role you ever played? (And school plays count!)
Well my stage debut was as the all singing all dancing Donkey in a school production of Meredith the Camel!!!!! I received great critical acclaim for that. Professionally my first job was Tom Thumb in Barnum. I left College a few weeks early to start rehearsals, it was all very exciting and new and just remember thinking “I’m actually doing this now as a living” Great Job but it didn’t make me want to join the circus.

In the world of theatre who has inspired you ?
Performers would have to include Peter Joback, Daniel Evans, Jenna Russel, Ruthie Henshall, Idena Menzel, Joanna Riding, Bernadette Peters, Adam Pascal, but there are so many other great performers I’ve seen who have truly moved me and made me realise why I love this profession.

If you could play any role in any Andrew Lloyd Webber musical which one would you choose?
Well getting the chance to play Rusty in Starlight Express was a dream role for me and one I’d always wanted to play.

Who would you like as your co-star and why?
I loved working with Jane Horn who played Pearl with me, we had such a great time and she is so talented. I’d love to work with Bernadette Peters in something, maybe she could play my mum.

You have performed as “Rusty” in “Starlight Express” many times, what did you enjoy most about the experience?
My Rusty Journey started as an understudy, I did get on quite a lot but actually getting asked to be Rusty in the Final UK cast was amazing. Singing “Starlight Express” every night was amazing and the last night was really emotional.

What were the major differences between playing “Starlight Express” in Germany and the UK?
I never played Rusty in Germany but being involved in the German production is far more about the spectacle, it’s HUGE!! It was really daunting when I first got there having never skated, and it was also very strange singing in German. The UK tour for me was far more about telling the story of the show and introducing the characters in it. However the audiences seemed to love the 3D goggles and races and I honestly didn’t miss racing one little bit, The show is hard enough anyway.

If someone was going to see “Starlight Express” in Bochum where should they go to eat?
Well there is a street there called Kortum St which is a long pedestrian street full of Café’s and restaurants. My faves (if they are still there - because I was there in 2005) were Salsilitos, and The Living Room.

What show tune most sums you up?
“Why Should I Wake Up?” from” Cabaret”, it’s good to dream.

Outside the world of theatre who inspires you and why?
Cliché, but true, my parents. They have been so supportive of everything I’ve done.

If you weren’t a performer What do you think you would be?
A door to door salesman.

What makes you really happy and why?
Sunshine, being with my mates on holiday, and a bottle of Corona. Sometimes being in this business we get so wrapped up in what’s coming next we forget to enjoy what we are doing now.

What makes you really angry and why?
People walking slowly in London taking up the entire pavement drives me mad. Mad I tell you!!!

Shoes or Skates?
Shoes are more practical but skates are much quicker!

Spring or Autumn?
Spring every time because Summer is on the way

Summer or Scarlet?
Haha, of the Strallen Variety?? Scarlet is great but Summer is a really great friend of mine so of course I’d pick her, and she’s a great Maria in Sound of Music!

Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
Hollywood as an A list Actor. Well someone has to be!

Do you know the way to San Jose?
No, but google maps are very informative

And finally can you share a handy household hint with us?
A happy working song really does help get those chores done.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Reviewing The Situation

Small pleasures? Well some things are more of a guilty pleasure. Cream cakes, Marks and Spencer’s crisps, facebook and of course “I’d Do Anything” all definitely fall into that camp. What often amuses me is how much my facebook friends seem to obsess over the television search for “Nancy”. They are joining groups announcing their support of a particular contestant and their status often bemoans that weeks performances. A couple of weeks ago one of them even said “First Boris, now Sarah – what are the public thinking?” You’ve got to love it! So when it came to write a little something about the show I thought it only fair to canvass the opinions of these facebook friends.

My old friend Debra Jackson, a soon to be forty regional business manager (OK so I know she will kill me for that but she’s got a few months on me so I am going to milk it!) told me she absolutely adores and loathes the programme. I think we all know what she means! Anyway she asked if she could comment and be hideously bitchy. Well why not, after all that’s half of the fun.

Bitchy isn’t the half of it! The comments of the people who aren’t watching it were downright nasty. “Beat the Stylist’s” John Scott merely asked “Does anyone watch it?” but box office manager, Berni Green said “sorry i dont watch cruise liner singers and ugly people, my TV wont allow it.” Meeow! Then there was performer Marc Joseph who commented “I refuse to watch it- makes my stomach turn, but then maybe i'm bitter coz I always saw myself playing that part - !!” Hmmmm

But of course there are some of us who are watching the show and loving it. The last two years have seen major talents discovered in Connie Fisher and Lee Mead (not to mention the burgeoning television career of the lord himself) so now the contestants really have an understanding of what’s at stake and how a win could change their lives forever. This makes for an entertaining show that’s just perfect for a Saturday night and also does a good job in getting people to come to the theatre who otherwise may not have done.

Anyway enough of the back ground , it’’s time to dish! I think we will begin proceedings with Deb – what does she think?
“I love the Irish bird - the stage-school/beauty school reject one (Jessie) dances like a puppet but far less fake than the rest. MY BIG Fave
Oldest contestant (Jodie) , ex- weight watcher of the year - would be great as an Elvis impersonator, good lip-curls - seriously over-acts, cries on demand.Niamh - whippet-like bird, looks nice in a dress, looks like she needs a good feed; can u imagine her matching Bill Sykes, she looks so young, Rachel? - if this is the black-haired one, with the crooked mouth, then I like her sincerity, but she reeks of desperation, never a good smell.”

Poor Jodie! Elvis impersonator???? The other feedback I had was very much at odds with Deb’s comments. Former “Chicago” cast member A.J. O’Neill is very much a Jodie fan
“It should be Jodie. She just IS nancy. Sam should be shot quick before she gets the job and they realise that she's a pop singer who is too young and inexperienced and just cause she's hot and has the support of an entire island she'lll never be in the bottom two. Gah” Hmmmm the bitchiness keeps coming back!

Box Office clerk Nic Myers joins the praise for Jodie….
“Best choice look wise and she is a strong singer, but her belt is not great at the top....Sam is a friend so (I am a ) little biased, but she is more suited to pop, or rocky musical, and she is a strong talent, but far to young.I thought at the start Rachel was best choice but she’s not done anything startling the last few weeks, and I think she slipped (out of) the public favour”

Current bookies favourite, Jessie is also not immune to A.J’s criticism.
“(She) can't do the accent or move. lovely voice but no. Way too early in her career, though she will have one. and probably be great. WHY OH WHY are Niamh, Sam and Jessie still in it after Sarah (Lark) was kicked out? Ridiculous. Admittedly she's not very Nancy either but you can't FAULT her performances. Sigh ….

Box office manager, Alan Ferris, too is firmly in the Jodie fan club.
“I believe that she will come across as a strong woman, with honest working class charm and heart. I can believe in her sexual attraction to a Sykes type and her compassion for Oliver. She seems to wear her heart on her sleeve which is an absolute necessity for Nancy. She has the laughter and the life.
Jessie has spent far to much time practicing being a singer with her hairbrush and bedroom mirror - it shows in her stance and that awful grimace she makes while singing. I see her abilities but not her heart.
The others (are) far too young or as in Rachel's case too practiced. So for a true reading of Bart's Nancy it has to be Jodie. Plus they can then say we found a singer and made her a West End Star. Most of the others were or would have been anyway! Jodie is a find! “

But these are the opinions of people who work in the theatre industry (and I must admit I agree with them) . However, I did get a late response from Tony Davies. Now Tony is a chiropodist – not show-biz at all!
“Jodie is the Nancy for me as she has that warmth of character that makes her the surrogate mum for all of those urchins; she's a woman of the world too.Samantha is a little too sweet to be wholesome for the role - she'd be great as Sandie in “Grease”. Rachel could be Nancy, yet she has a hardness of look that doesn't do her justice - she needs to smile more and soften her facial expression a little Jessie is not Nancy because she is too clumsy on stage, cannot dance and curls her mouth in that way that the panel were critical of Craig of in 'Any Dream Will Do', yet none of them have picked up on this. My money's on Jodie!”

So the bookies favourite, Jessie, seems to be scoring low with the facebook fans – with the exception of Debra. I guess this all goes to show that it’s anyone’s game. In just over a week the winner will be crowned and we will know (now that Niamh has been eliminated) which of the remaining four contestants is that lucky winner.

In conclusion? I guess I will give the last word to Debra who says…..
“I say Barrymore for Nancy, better singer, better looking, looks fab in a dress x”

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Why Can't The Past Just Die?

A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away……well actually just a short way across the west end…..I set foot in a theatre box office for the first time. Before I say anything else I should probably clarify that I was VERY young. In fact I was just eighteen. It wasn’t the first time I had worked in a theatre either, as I had worked at the Palladium as an attendant for the previous three school summer holidays, however I had left school and moved to London full time. The time was 1987 and the place was Her Majesty’s Theatre on the Haymarket. Oh the glamour of it all!!! Oh the naivety of youth!

As anyone who actually works in a theatre would realise, glamour is usually in short supply for those of us who work front of house and behind the scenes. But this was 1987 and working at Her Majesty’s was never less than exciting. The previous year had seen “The Phantom Of The Opera” open to rave reviews, and the beginning of a phenomenon the like of which I doubt we will ever see again. Almost every day the news papers would run a story connected to the show. Wogan would have cast members appear on his TV chat show. Memorably, even “Eastenders’” Dirty Den got in the act when he said “I’m going to see the phantom of the opera – and I’m taking ‘er to the theatre”. Poor Angie! Well Den may be dead and gone (twice) but the Phantom is still going strong, and back in 1987 I stepped into this world of endless masquerades and opera ghosts shortly before its first birthday.

So there I am young and naïve (as we have already established) and starting my first day in a job which I still do to this day. Of course, to a novice like me, I expected to walk in, sit on the box office window, and start selling tickets immediately. That is usually how it works but there was one big draw back! There were NO tickets. For almost a whole year! The show was well and truly sold out. Not sold out like now where you can often go in and get single seats etc. but totally sold out. Actually we did hold back some restricted views until the morning of the show but that was because if we didn’t there may have been a riot. Most mornings there were between forty and sixty people queuing for them and quite a number would have been there overnight. Now that’s dedication!

Anyway, after being introduced to the box office manager – bizarrely he was from Texas yet had an impeccable English accent – I was taken to head office. For a month! The head office of Stoll Moss Theatres (as we then were) was in Leicester Square and called Cranbourne Mansions. The whole building reeked of theatre (by which I mean atmosphere not the smell of the greasepaint!) and there was probably nowhere else that felt quite so theatrical without actually being a theatre. I had no clue why I was there but was to discover that when it came to selling tickets this was the hub of the operation.

The only way you could get tickets was by postal applications. Boy, were there a lot of those. I began my career in a room with fourteen sacks of mail. My first job was just opening them up and throwing them in plastic containers. Next they were sorted into “Weekends”, “Weeknights” and “Wednesday matinees”. Then they were attacked with a marker pen as all the most important criteria were highlighted. Next they made their way to the important and uberstressed Judy, Amanda and Steve (a.k.a. the “crumbly muffins” – lord knows why!) who were in charge of allocating the seats. In due course some of the applicants received letters offering them tickets and giving them a deadline to pay for them by. The largest proportion of the letters sadly ended up getting “N/A” letters – as in nothing available. So this was my lot for the next month. Chief letter opener!

One month in and everything changed. Finally I was in the box office and just in time for the shows first birthday. So ok, life wasn’t that glamorous generally but there were exceptions and the first birthday was one of them. The party was very swish and was held at the art deco Roof Gardens in Kensington. Champagne flowed, flamingos strutted and Sarah Brightman shimmied as a wonderful time was had by all.

Only a week or so later Michael Crawford left the show to prepare for the Broadway production. The queues for “returns” had begun a week before and some people had been camped out all that time. Now that really is close to insanity! I remember one lady called Geraldine who had seen the show over a hundred times in the first year alone by queuing for returns. Of course we didn’t know her as Geraldine but as Dolly, because she had, allegedly, built a life size papier mache mannequin of Michael Crawford. You couldn’t make it up could you? I was lucky enough to be in the audience for Michael’s last night and the atmosphere was incredible. However, sacriligious as it may sound I much preferred Crawford’s successor in the role of opera ghost. Dave Willets joined the cast at the same time as a fresh faced Michael Ball became Raoul. Ball’s predecessor Steve Barton was to join Crawford and Brightman in New York. Returning to the role of Christine was the lovely Claire Moore. Claire was much loved by those of us in the box office, you couldn’t meet anyone friendlier or more down to earth. On one occasion I remember her even taking over the window for a while (whilst wearing her dressing gown!) so I could pop to the loo! Without the titian wig the audience really didn’t have a clue! We had a great relationship with all the cast but particularly Rosemary Ashe the original Carlotta who was very camp and even wrote her cheques in pink ink! I should also mention the late Mary Millar who was so effective in her role as the original Madame Giry and a truly lovely woman.

So what of our work in the box office? Well, I was there another two years and it was pretty relentless. Quite often the back log of post could be over forty sacks. We were usually absolutely sold out a year in advance. People would even buy up all the single seats just for a chance to see this show that had so much captured the public’s imagination. I doubt the West End had ever seen anything like it before and the industry has now changed so much that I doubt it would be possible for a show to have quite that level of success. It truly was astonishing. In these days of call centres with large numbers of staff it’s amazing to think what we achieved with just a dozen people in two small offices. What seems particularly absurd is that all of this was achieved without a computer in sight. The tools of the trade back then were a pile of manual plans, a handful of brightly coloured crayons and of course those brightly coloured tickets that really did look like theatre tickets!

So the decades have passed, the way we do our jobs has changed, and indeed the landscape of the whole west end has changed. However one of the few constants is “The Phantom Of The Opera” which continues to thrill audiences at Her Majesty’s Theatre and long may it do so!

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Now where was I? Oh yes! I was in Germany with a bar of Suchard’s Milka watching Musical Showstar 2008. Well, the holiday was soon over but I did manage to watch the two further editions of this casting show online. It’s not nearly as comfortable sitting at my PC, and yes I did miss the chocolate, but it was great to be able to log on and see what happened next.

As you will remember the point of the show was to find a Rusty and Pearl for the Bochum production of “Starlight Express” which has been wowing audiences since 1988. Appropriately enough the second edition began with a medley from the show, and the eight remaining contestants proved that they could remain upright on a pair of roller skates and sing at the same time. They even managed a little choreography.

The same three judges were in position, as well as Uwe Kroeger, who I mentioned last time, the others were Alexander Goebel – Germany’s first Phantom and Katja Ebstein who performed in their production of “Chicago”. Joining Gottschalk on the sofa, was American born Helen Schneider who played Norma Desmond in the German premier of “Sunset Boulevard” (opposite Kroeger) and Meatloaf who surprisingly began his career in Broadway musicals.

The first performance of the night was a lively Petter singing “I Got Life” from “Hair”. He really got into the spirit of things, particularly when he came to the line “I got my ass” by getting his out. I say!!!!! It was a good try but sadly he didn’t quite convince as a hippie flower child.
Christina Maria Brenner chose a song from a particular favourite of mine; the German language hit “Elisabeth”, and sang the beautiful “Ich Gehor Nur Mir”. The audience loved it and I was very impressed by her fantastic vocals and dramatic performance. Uwe wasn’t won over by her characterization saying that he felt she brought herself to it rather than inhabiting the character of “Sissy”. He was in the minority however as Goebel was effusive in his praise.
Kevin Kohler’s version of “Any Dream Will Do” suffered from him not sounding comfortable singing in English again; however it was a thoroughly entertaining performance and it was clear that he would make a great Rusty; but on this occasion he failed to impress the judges.
Sarah Medina improved on her previous song by singing “Macavity” from “Cats” in her own language. Yet again she was wearing a leotard! However this time she had the addition of cat ears!
Marcel Brauneis was particularly impressive with a performance of “I Want To Break Free” from “We Will Rock You”. The judges gave him his best comments so far and were unanimous in saying he would make a great Rusty. Meatloaf was in agreement - in his words “You rocked man!”
The beautifully voiced, if a little bland, Anna Maria Schmidt followed, and failed to impress me with “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.
Then we came to Alexander Herzog. You may remember that Alexander was the portly one who fell off his skates. Anyway, he made a shrewd choice by singing “Out There” from Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” – which has seen a successful German stage production. He really had the hump (sorry I can’t help it) and sang very well, but Rusty? Hmmmm.
My favourite performance of the night came from Franziska Forster who transformed herself from the blue eyed soul singer of the previous week to full show biz pizzazz with “All That Jazz” She was really fantastic and Uwe, rightly, said she was the contests strongest performer.

So the phone lines were open and Helen Schneider took to the stage for an uber-dramatic rendition of “Wein Nicht Um Mich Argentien”. I am sure you can work out the translation of that for yourself! Meatloaf then gave an impassioned speech saying that the contestants were far better than those on a recent American TV casting show. I thought Kevin Kohler was going to cry! Anyway, it appeared that Petter had hit a bum note with his mooning and he left the competition along with Sarah. They both took their disappointment on the chin, and erstwhile cat Sarah didn’t even cough up a fur ball. So we bade them goodbye and the evening ended on a high with the remaining entrants delivering an energetic medley of “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” from “Hair”. Thankfully on this occasion no posteriors were bared!

The Finale

As in the previous editions the evening began with Thomas Gottschalk and his amazing hair entering to the strains of “What A Feeling”. He then introduced the finalists who launched into a rousing rendition of “Cabaret’s” “Wilkommen”. I still feel a tad traumatized from seeing Alexander dressed like a “Chicago” boy, but Kevin definitely had the edge on all the others with a highly polished dance performance. After enjoying the song, Gotttschalk retired to the sofa where he was joined by a returning Rolando Villazon (he of the big voice and Shirley Bassey-esque hand gestures) and the permatanned George Hamilton.

It was of course the final so this edition was going to be a little different to previous instalments and began with a few duets. Marcel and Kevin were first up with “Don’t Stop Me Now” and gave a great performance. Kevin still sounded uncomfortable however, and Marcel really struggled with the high notes. Overall it wasn’t a bad start to the evening though and Alexander Goebel was impressed. Mind you, he did call them the Siegfried and Roy of musicals but in all fairness Marcel’s hair was a little OTT.
I really felt for Alexander Herzog and Anna Maria Schmidt as they sang “All I Ask Of You” in German. Not only was Goebel the original German Phantom, but Kroeger sang the role for the German movie soundtrack and Sarah Brightman was in the studio. Not nerve wracking at all!!!!! Anna Maria seemed to struggle but Alexander fared better – though neither was exceptional. Perhaps they were distracted by the Eiffel tower which strangely towered over them? I thought they worked well together but of course Uwe disagreed. Goebel loved it, but then it is his favourite show and he has played the role of “Phantom” over 1300 times. They definitely saved the best duet for last with Christiana and Franzizka singing a German version of “Mamma Mia’s” “Dancing Queen”. Christina would make a fab Tania, and really got into the spirit of things. The girls got the best comments so far.

Before the solo performances, Sarah Brightman sang the beautiful “Symphony” from her current album. The song is an English translation of a big hit by German band, Silbermond. She looked absolutely stunnning and even managed to speak a little German in her interview, all in all very impressive!

Poor Alexander Herzog! We see him in lycra, on skates, and with a hump, next it was drag as he performed the gay anthem “I Am What I Am”. He wasn’t bad but his light tenor didn’t really do the song justice. Goebel told him he was great but finally gave him a reality check by telling him he was not and never would be a “Rusty”.
Christina’s gorgeous German version of “Aida’s” “I Know The Truth” drew Uwe’s best comments so far, which were well justified.
Marcel reached some beautiful high notes with his “Maria”, from “West Side Story”, and for the first time showed us he could act.
Once again Franziska Forster was the shows highlight with a spine tingling “Maybe this Time”. She isn’t really a good choice for Pearl but is certainly a star in the making.
Kevin Kohler’s choice was somewhat unusual with “Your Song” from “Moulin Rouge”. Why oh why didn’t he sing something in German? Yet again I felt he sounded uncomfortable.
The final performance was from Anna Maria, who truly impressed me for the first time, with “Gold Von Den Sternen” from “Mozart”, a show from the same writers as “Elisabeth” She also proved she could sing and swing at the same time when a swing descended from the flies covered in garlands.

While the votes were placed we finally got to see Rolando Villazon perform an impeccably sung “Impossible Dream” . Following this he was joined by Gottschalk and adopted an extreme Mexican accent for “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”. Gottschalk hasn’t got a great voice but he really captured the essence of the show and would be a great addition to any cast of “Spamalot”.

So the results were finally in. I think Herzog must like his drag make up as he was still wearing it when it came to decision time. Marcel and Christina were first to be eliminated so it was a choice between Herzog and Kevin Kohler for the prize. It was hardly a shock that Kevin won and I am sure that he will make a great Rusty, although I suspect Marcel would have been just as good. Prettier too! Sadly my favourite performer Franziska didn’t get the chance to don her roller skates, but with a good decade on Kevin she may have looked a little odd as his love interest. In the end Anna Maria was really the only option for Pearl so who better to win the role.

With a tear in his eye Kevin joined Anna Maria and finally we got to hear him singing in German, and yes he sounded much more confident, as they sang “Only You” from “Starlight”. They were joined by a selection of steam trains and carriages with no marriages for a spectacular ending to the competition. I am sure that the German public made the right choice and they will be excellent additions to the cast. The whole thing almost made me want to go to Bochum to see the show for myself. I strongly suspect that it will have had the same effect Germany wide and should give the show enough of a boost to steam into it’s twenty first birthday next year, and well beyond. So three cheers for Kevin and Anna Maria!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

I Am The Starlight

On the first day the lord created Maria. He soon realised that he had a hit on his hands so it wasn’t long before Joseph followed, and others too got on the bandwagon. Two years on and these reality/talent shows are very much part of the entertainment landscape. Last year saw casting shows for “Grease” both here and in America, and now it seems that it’s gone worldwide. So far this year the trend has given us “I’d Do Anything”, and over in Canada they are trying to solve a problem called Maria. Even Germany has caught the bug and currently has two casting shows on air.

“Ich Tarzan, Du Jane” is the first of these shows. Disney’s “Tarzan” was not a great success in it’s recent Broadway run but that hasn’t stopped German TV channel Sat1 from searching for the two lead roles for a forthcoming production. I have managed to see a few clips from the show and basically it features young and pretty types singing pop songs and is kind of like X Factor but with props. Sadly I haven’t seen the whole show so can’t really comment further.

However, I was able to see ZDF’s offering “Musical Showstar 2008”. Hosted by Thomas Gottshalk, one of German Televisions biggest stars, they have really pulled the stops out with this spectacular talent search. The format is very similar to the American Idol/X Factor/I’d Do Anything shows that we know and love. A judging panel of three includes Uwe Kroeger, Germanys answer to John Barrowman albeit much more serious. Having lead the cast of many of Germanys big shows over the last decade or so including “Miss Saigon”, “Sunset Boulevard” and “Tanz Der Vampires”, not to mention a brief run in the West End with “Napolean” he is an obvious choice for the panel.

Unlike other shows of the genre, Musical Showstar is searching for two lead performers for an existing hit show. “Starlight Express” has been running in Bochum since 1988 and the search is on for the show’s romantic leads, Pearl and Rusty. Bizarelly not all of the candidates appear to be obvious choices for the roles. With ages ranging from late teens up to early thirties – they are literally all shapes and sizes and don’t necessarily have what would be considered the appropriate physique for such a physically demanding show. Where this show shines is that rather than performing a sequence of pop songs all the performers do well known show tunes, in character, in staged production numbers and costumes. This really gives them the chance to show their mettle and display their acting as well as singing chops. For the first live show the performers gave a good group version of “Fame” before we were introduced to Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon who had been giving them some vocal coaching. The clip they showed of this was hilarious. There were these would be musical steam trains with Villazon encouraging them by yodelling full blown operatics in their face at short range. Complete with Shirley Bassey hand gestures. After this he and Gottshalk were joined on the sofa by Uberchanteuse, and star of London’s “Chicago”, Ute Lemper.

Next we got to see the ten candidates actually perform – and the judges caustic comments after. Not to mention the preceding background “clip”. First up was Kevin Kohler, a 24 year old Hamburger, with an energetic English language performance of “Tragedy” . It did come across a little stilted vocally as he wasn’t that comfortable singing in English but as an acting performance it was great and drew positive comments from the judges. 23 year old Christina Maria Brenner was next up with a beautifully sung “Erinnerung” . This for uninitiated is “Memory” of course. Sadly she eschewed the full blown Grizabella treatment and opted for a glamorous ball gown. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” was the next question and Marcel Brauneis answered. Instead of donning the complete Simba make – up Marcel opted to go bare chested, also sporting a fetching brown bolero and some leopard skin pajama bottoms. Beautifully sung, but the judges, particularly Kroeger, criticized his acting ability. Next a little blue eyed soul as 34 year old Franziska Forster belted out “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”. Much was made of the fact that she was a housewife and mother. Ok well if we are getting technical hausfrau und mutter, but the panel were impressed and Lemper provided her feedback on what it’s like to be a Schauspielerin and mutter at the same time for any voters who may have their misgivings! Next came the unlikely, and rather rotund, Alexander Herzog who sang a bumptious number from “Beauty And The Beast” in German – then drew rapturous comments from the judges and a great response from the audience. Personally I didn’t get it. But then again, if my relatives are anything to go by, the Germans do like someone who enjoys their food. The reubenesque Navina Heare then attempted to defy gravity also in German. Sadly she failed to impress the panel. Next up we were introduced to 32 year old Petter Bjallo. Before his song we were shown a short clip of him and his life partner singing Cole Porter’s “True Love” round the piano. Very touching and not camp at all!! His song, was a dramatic German version of “This Is The Moment” from “Jekyll And Hyde”. I thought he acquitted himself well but things got heavy for Petter as the panel disagreed. Mostly with his theatrical hand gestures. I suspect he had been watching Rolando Villazon too intently! Anna Maria Schmidt possibly got the nights best comments for her German “Pocahontas” number – she did sing it beautifully but it wasn’t a song that particularly showed her acting ability. However her clip did show that she loved her Grandpa. Bless! Penultimately we had the youngest finalist, 19 year old Kaj Binder giving sweet “Sandy” from “Grease” and managing to ride a Chopper bicycle and emote at the same time. The judges seemed to like him and Ute Lemper said her oldest daughter would really love him! Finally we got Sarah Medina with a stilted version of “Dance Ten looks Three” another performer who didn’t sound comfortable singing in English, but managed to “act” this “Chorus line” song about tits and ass well enough to wow the judges and the audience.

So that was it. all the performers had performed and the phone lines were open. For five minutes. Next we were shown a clip from the Bochum “Starlight” set where the ten got to put their skates on and try a few moves on set. This was hastily brushed over when the portly Herzog failed to stay upright for more than a second at a time. Anyway, moving on…. The next part of the show was a real treat as I got to see Ute Lemper perform “Cabaret”. Truly fantastic, and a hard act to live up to for the competitors! One small criticism. When Germans say a “S” sound it often comes out as a “Sh”. Now imagine her singing “What good is sitting alone in your room”. A slight problem!

Then we get to find out who is out. Alexander and Anna Maria are first to be told they are safe until it’s wittled down to two boys and girls. Then we go to commercial break. So who got the boot? Well Kaj is first for the chop despite his chopper. And the unlucky girl?? Well she did try but Navina failed to defy gravity or capture the audience vote. And that’s it my experience of “Musical Showstar” is over. Well not quite. On returning home I discovered that I see watch the entire live show (sans background clips) on the ZDF website and I may well log on tonight and watch the further two instalments. So watch this space!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

What Do We Do We Fly?

One o-clock and you're at the gate, Two o-clock and the flight's delayed, When you finally leave it's eight, And what do we do? We fly!

Well that’s Stephen Sondheim’s take on air travel “What Do We Do We Fly” from his sixties collaboration with Richard Rodgers – “Do I Hear A Waltz?”

Forty years on and it seems the pitfalls of flying have changed relatively little. It was with some trepidation that I began my recent flight from Heathrow to Stuttgart. I had a bad experience coming through the airport last summer and now I was faced with the added stress of the newly opened terminal five. An early start was one thing but getting up at 4.45 a.m. really hurt. Why did I have the bright idea of an 8 a.m. flight? Temporary insanity? Actually my insanity is more of the permanent variety so I doubt that! Anyway, I had already checked in online so that was one hassle over. When I got to T5 I felt quite lost, but a girl clad in an over-sized T shirt emblazoned with an “I” quickly came to my aid. She informed me that as I was prepared I was in for a very easy ride. So I then proceeded to breeze through the fast baggage drop before moving on to the security checks etc. Security was nowhere near as bad as the media have lead us to believe. Aside from the novelty of removing my belt and shoes it was easy peasy. I wasn’t even frisked! I may have to complain!

I suppose the design of the terminal is good, but I was disappointed by the duty free options. I had hoped for new and exciting but I found just the same old selection from the other terminals. Never mind though, I got my bottle of Davidoff’s Echo which was all I wanted anyway! Finally the gate was announced as A23 and I discovered I was practically there already. Sadly I wasn’t a B or C gate so I didn’t get to go on the little train!

I had just got comfortable when I glanced up to discover that the sign saying Stuttgart now said Stockholm, Hmm thought I. A rather loud American passenger then tells us all that they have just told him that it’s now gate 21. Great. So we all traipse down to gate 21. The American then proceeds to tell us that he has been at the airport 24 hours as his flight the previous day had been cancelled because of the snow. Encouraging. Oh, and BA had lost his luggage – last seen in New York. Very encouraging! Next thing we know the sign at gate 21 has changed to Amsterdam and 23 has gone back to Stuttgart so, once again, we all traipse back to other gate. The girl on the desk then informs us that , no, it is definitely gate 23 we need so we all meander back. Bloody hell! All I wanted was a quiet nap before boarding – was that too much to ask? I give up and glance at my Doctor Who magazine instead. Yes I am that sad!

“I haven’t even brushed my teeth” announced the American, “so stay away”. No fear, I think, that’s definitely my plan. At this point two women arrive, rather late, for the flight and the American kindly tells them that its at gate 21 and boarding is closing. Of course they run all the way there as the American laughs before telling them that it has changed. So nice! Anyway, boarding time it is and who should I find is sat next to me on the plane? The American guy, of course. Typical. Thankfully he leaves me alone and engages with an elderly German lady obsessed with which compartment her coat is in, along with the afore mentioned late women. So I finally got my nap, and slept for a good hour. Then I awoke to discover that we were still on the tarmac and hadn’t took off. Great! However, within minutes, we finally began our ascent. After touching down I must have cleared the “flughafen” in ten minutes. The joy of small airports! Never the less, the 4.45 am start had left me pretty kaput for the rest of the day.

I hate planes, sitting three abreast. I hate planes, never get a rest. I hate planes (I hate... Ev'ry single one.) The crossing was rough -- Which wasn't enough, The fun hadn't yet begun.

Yes I guess Sondheim got that right too. Along with a couple of songs in Kander and Ebbs “Steel Pier” and last years cult success “The Drowsy Chaperone” air travel is rarely touched upon in musical theatre. There is of course a recent addition to this list that more than makes up for it. Maltby and Shire’s “Take Flight”

“Take Flight” was slightly unusual in that it saw a new work by the established Broadway team of Maltby and Shire receive it’s premier on this side of the pond – at Meniers Chocolate factory – last year. I didn’t get to see the show during it’s run, but I have recently invested in its cast album so I thought this seemed a good time to talk about it.

Rather than telling a linear story this musical looks at a handful of aviations pioneers and going back and forth between their stories and therefore in time.
The show has four main protagonists. The Wright brothers - the true pioneers of flight. Charles Lindbergh the first man to fly Atlantic – he would be the Lucky lindy who “Never flew so high” in “All That Jazz”. Finally, Amelia Earheart the first woman to conquer the same feat. Earheart is possibly best remembered for her attempt to circumnavigate the globe which ended in her plane going missing during its last leg over the pacific.

On first listening the recording didn’t really grab me. I thought it had similarities with Kander and Ebb’s “Steel Pier” and Sondheim’s “Bounce” neither of which are their creators best work. Obviously hearing a show cold on CD isn’t ideal so it’s often with later hearings that I begin to “get” it. Actually it’s not half bad, and I have found that the score puts me in mind of “Ragtime” whish is actually somewhat of a favourite of mine.

“Take Flights” title, and opening, number is a great start describing as it does literally taking flight and also realizing one’s dreams. The Wrights yearn to be the first to achieve flight, despite their academic shortcomings, and Earheart and Lindberghs aviatory goals. The Wrights seem to be the light relief of the piece with songs often seeming to be quite vaudevillesque – in particular their final one, “The Funniest Thing”. Michael Jibson’s nervous portrayal of Lindbergh illustrates the almost pathological shyness the man had. His reprise of the song “Before The Dream” is quite lovely. As Amelia Earheart, that erstwhile Reno Sweeney, Sally Anne Triplett possibly get’s the shows best number with “A Part Of Me”. This is one of the few songs that may well have a life beyond the show itself. As the CD draws to a close history has already told us that not all of our characters would get a happy ending. However the shows ending is one of optimism as it ends with Orville and Wilbur Wright finally achieving their dream and taking flight.

So, take flight? Yes it’s time for the home stretch and my flight back to London. As I write it’s 7.30pm. My 7.05 plane had only left London at 6.40pm and now isn’t expected to depart until 8.45. My stomach is rumbling and I am tempted to dive into the chocolate I have bought for my friend who is collecting me from Heathrow. Seems fair – after all she will be at work now an unable to collect me. So once again I am sitting in an airport and wondering why on earth I put myself through this. There must be better ways to travel surely? But in Sondheim’s words – what do we do we do? We fly, well what do we do? We fly!