Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Journey Of A Lifetime

Saturday 22nd March sees Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrating the occasion of his sixtieth birthday so it only seems fitting that this week I talk about him! Sir Andrew is, of course, best known as a composer of musical theatre. Despite being an art form dominated by the Americans there are a long line of Brit’s who have had success in the field. Ivor Novello, David Heneker, Lionel Bart, Sandy Wilson, Elton John and Noels - Gay and Coward (yes I know Coward was gay too but it wasn’t his name!) have all had varying degrees of success – not to mention ALW collaborators Tim Rice and Don Black. However, on this side of the pond, Sir Andrew is possibly the most successful of all of them.

Now I could spend the rest of this column singing his praises and listing his accomplishments but instead I have decided to plunder the archives of my column and blog and select a few instances of how his work has touched upon my life.

Like so many other children my first taste of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work was probably “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” The first time I saw Joseph I must have been eight or nine. I went on a school trip to Leicester Haymarket to see the show and we all had a whale of a time. I remember, during the finale, the actor playing the lead pelted the audience with liquorice allsorts. I am sure in these days of proliferate health and safety regulations it really wouldn’t be allowed, and indeed I cowered in my seat expecting to be killed by a candy hailstorm. My friend Lesley was much braver however and managed to catch a sweet which she then proceeded to nail varnish and cherish as a memento of her love for the show’s star. She still had the all sort in her jewellery box ten years later and I suspect that somewhere in the cottage she shares with her new husband there is still a mouldy old sweet to be found. The following year saw my next experience of the show, in Chelmsford, where my uncle was playing one of Joseph’s brothers. Possibly I enjoyed the show even more on this occasion.

A couple of years later I was to hear the original cast album of “Evita” for the first time. More than ever it was this that sparked a life long love of musicals. The thing that most sticks in my mind is that the LP cover was silver! I am not talking about a metallic grey cover – it was bright shining silver. As a 9 year old that very much impressed me – let’s not forget that LP covers were big too – not like a little cd cover. So it was big and silver ! Get it? There was something about the songs that really caught my imagination - they weren’t quite like any music I had heard before. More than anything I loved the lyrics! So much so that I often borrowed the book associated with the show from Coalville library, and voraciously learnt all the words to “Oh What A Circus”. I even tried reading a biography of Eva Peron – I think it was called “The Woman With The Whip”, but at nine years old my grasp on South American politics wasn’t great so the majority of this tome was beyond my comprehension. However this is a habit I have continued in life and often research the background to musicals (or indeed almost anything) that interests me.

Then at twelve years of age I sang “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the school choir. OK, so it’s about god technically but, given we also had to sing “I’m Just A Girl Who Cain’t Say No”, I think that the school choir had a lot to answer for! Over the next few years I saw more of his shows on stage. “Cats”, “Starlight Express” and of course “Evita” cementing my love of all things musical further

At eighteen my life changed for good as, after a few summer holidays doing FOH work, I came to work in Box Office. Not only had I got a job in box office but, at “Her Majesty’s Theatre” no less, on “Phantom Of The Opera” which had opened the previous year. Now “Phantom” was a pretty big deal back then – for anyone who wasn’t around at the time and thinks they have worked on hit shows, well, you really have no idea! “Phantom” was more than a hit show it was a cultural phenomenon. “Phantom” was mentioned on the TV all the time, and constant articles filled the papers on it with new stories and features most days. It was certainly an exciting time to come to work in the West End.

Of course as well as a composer, not to mention TV personality and budding actor (Hollyoaks anyone?) , Lloyd Webber (in a rather really useful way!) is equally successful as a theatrical producer. “Bombay Dreams” had been on for well over a year before I went to see it, and it turned out to be an exceptionally moving experience for me. All in all I loved the show – I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to see it. I loved the score, which although a world away in many ways, allowed me to hear many of the sounds I had heard in dad’s music (he had studied and played Indian music). The staging was a delight and I really couldn’t fault the performances. However the aspect of the show that moved me most was something quite subtle. For there on the side of the stage of the Apollo Victoria sat a musician. Playing tabla. My father’s instrument.

It goes without saying that another really useful production has had a great impact on me during the last couple of years. I speak of course of “The Sound Of Music” which continues to keep my days busy! A particularly nice thing about the show is that my Uncle’s partner Chris is in the cast. Chris had been out of show business for a good few years (he and my uncle ran a Deli of all things!) and it was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s last show as composer, “The Woman In White” that saw Chris return to treading the boards! However it is the current revival of “Joseph” that brings my own personal ALW story full circle.

Possibly because seeing “Joseph” was such a major part of my childhood I found many elements of the Adelphi production quite moving. The whole “father estranged from son” thing always gets me a bit -but that’s because of my own personal history. During the mega mix I even felt a bit choked. Now this I can’t explain but perhaps it was just the electric atmosphere that the show had generated that was getting to me. Whatever the reason I certainly had a great time and even though I hadn’t been particularly bothered about going I am very glad I did. A really great night out and, on this occasion, I didn’t have the perilous flying sweeties to contend with!

So there you have it. Just a few examples of how Andrew’s work has touched upon my life. I am sure that many of you have similar recollections too. So, in closing, all that remains is to wish the Lord (as Mr Norton likes to refer to him) a very happy sixtieth birthday. I look forward to your next move with great interest!

The Journey Of A Lifetime

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Let's Get Physical 6/3

To paraphrase the great Eartha Kitt I am just an old fashioned boy. Also like Eartha I am lacking an old fashioned millionaire. Where we differ is in that I can listen to my “Chopin and Bizet and the songs of yesterday” on my brand new second hand mp3 player. No, not an Ipod, as I say, I am old fashioned. I much prefer my music on the old fashioned compact disc. Who could imagine that a time could come when we could ever say that? I suppose a vinyl LP is now in antique territory!

An mp3 player/ipod has never really appealed to me. However, the music they are playing at my gym has seriously deteriorated of late so when a friend offered me her old player I almost bit her hand off.

Music provides a soundtrack to most of life’s defining moments, so the moments of defining that constitute a good work out should be no exception. To say the first selections I chose were random would be an under statement. Some of them were downright bizarre in fact. I suspect that the three hour long process of transferring files to the player may have something to do with that. Well I exaggerate a little, but it’s something I have no shame in admitting I struggle with! Some of my selections really lifted my spirits and were a great asset. Natalie Cole’s version of “Gotta Be” and even Nena singing “99 Luftballons” – yes in German – really got the adrenalin running as I pounded the treadmills.

Of course what brings me to mention all this is the show tunes I discovered I had allocated in my random selection. Some of them work brilliantly, some of them less so, and some ended up with quite embarrassing side effects!

I will begin with Andrew Lloyd Webber. “Oh What A Circus” from “Evita” was the perfect accompaniment to the cross trainers with all the pace and energy it has. My selection from “Jesus Christ Superstar” wasn’t nearly as successful though. It all started off swimmingly as “What’s The Buzz” got me sufficiently energized and I was veritably skipping along at high speed, then it segued into the slower “Strange Thing Mystifying” and I slowed along with the music until the point where I could hear the cross trainer beeping as I was going too slowly. I had a similar problem when it came to Sondheim. The title song of “Company” was great. I was a happy smiley skippy bunny trotting along as I silently joined the chorus of “Bobby baby, bobby bubby, Robert darling” . Where it all fell down was “Putting It Together” from “Sunday In The Park With George”. In places it’s great, but then they speed up, slow down, start talking. My pace was almost like I was on the random setting. When I was fast I was fast, when I was slow I was slow, when I was……hold on that’s the Grand Old Duke Of York isn’t it?

I suppose the most comical results were from the pens of neither of the above. I expect, when listening to music on headphones, we all sing along on occasion. Well, I lived to regret that whilst listening to a couple of tunes from current west end hit “Hairspray”. So there I am. The rowing machine. To my astonishment I realised that about three people were staring at me. Then it hit me. I had been singing “Mama I’m A Big Girl Now”. Very embarrassing. It had been quite bad enough ten minutes previously when I heard “Good Morning Baltimore” when on the bike, only to realise I was holding my arms aloft – a la Eva Peron on the balcony of the casa rosada – although thankfully at this point I was keeping my mouth shut. Tracy Turnblad has a lot to answer for!

It was this dual mortification that decided me. The last straw! It was pop only from then on, the show tunes had to go. I was simply not to be trusted. They are banished from my mp3 player until further notice. All well and good, but I will let you into a little secret. The gym’s not nearly as much fun without them!