Sunday, 4 October 2009

If You Were Wondering

Well, it’s been a while since I introduced you to one of my Really Useful People , so I thought it was high time that we caught up with a couple of my previous subjects and see what they are up to now.

Firstly, erstwhile “Rusty”, Adam Ellis has had a successful run in “Pirates Of Penzance” at the Union Theatre and is shortly to make his debut in “Chicago” as Mary Sunshine. So if you want to see Adam strutting his stuff and all that jazz head on down to the Cambridge Theatre at Seven Dials.

So that’s what Adam is up to but now it’s time to find out what the Captain did next. Captain Von Trapp that is, in the shape of Simon Burke. Since leaving the London Palladium production of “The Sound Of Music” Simon has filmed an episode of “Hustle” and most excitingly made his debut at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. Currently Simon is appearing as Georges in “La Cage Aux Folles” at London’s Playhouse Theatre and has also managed to find the time to release his debut album.

The beautifully titled “Something About Always” is a collection of songs that Simon has performed on the world’s stages, giving his fans an opportunity to have a permanent reminder of his big moments from the musicals. The title, of course, is a lyric from his current role with “La Cage’s” “Song On The Sand”, it is possibly one of my favourite Jerry Herman songs although it tends to be neglected on recordings in favour of the shows mega-hit “I Am What I Am”. Simon’s version has all the tenderness that the song conjures up in an imaginative, yet simple arrangement that utilizes the show’s title song.

For those of us who saw Simon’s turn in “A Little Night Music” at the National Theatre around a dozen years ago, we finally get to have his take on “In Praise Of Women”. It’s not necessarily a song that works well out of context but as he took over the role of Carl-Magnus he was the only one of the principals I saw who did not feature on the cast recording. Therefore for the completists amongst us it’s quite nice to add his rendition to our collections! He neatly follows this with “Sorry-Grateful” from “Company” which almost gives it a context as both songs deal with the trials of tribulations of marriage.

Having played Billy Flynn in “Chicago” and “Billy Crocker in “Anything Goes” it’s only right that we get to hear Simon’s “All I Care About Is Love” and “You’re The Top”. The latter features the delicious Caroline O’Connor in a duet of the Cole Porter classic. It’s another Porter song, this time from “High Society” that sees Simon reuniting with his very first Maria Rainer, Connie Fisher in a touching version of “True Love”. Undoubtedly this track is one of the album’s highlights.

As in the case of “Night Music”, Simon was a “take over” in “The Sound Of Music” so is not featured on the productions cast recording, however he addresses that fact by adding the shows paean to home “Edelweiss” to his collection. He follows this with a celebration of his own homeland, Australia entitled “My Country”. Personally this is probably the song I am least fond of on the album, but in all fairness I am not an Aussie. As the album’s quite an intimate one, with just a small band of musicians I just felt that this was one song that really needed a fuller musical accompaniment to do it justice. It’s definitely the more tender moments on the album that work best.

My personal highlights from the album are probably the lovely “What More Can I Say” from William Finn’s “March Of The Falsettoes” and two songs that I have never previously heard. Opening the proceedings we have a song from fellow countryman, Peter Allen called “If You Were Wondering” which I am sure will become a real favourite of mine. In closing Simon selects a delightful little song, which I believe he chose as the song that best sums him up back in my interview with him. So finally I got to hear “The Cuddle Song” and very sweet it is too!

Simon is in fine voice throughout and, as I mentioned earlier, he is at his best on the album’s more tender and reflective where his voice and the small band are at one with each other. I’m not sure whether it’s his intention but I found it quite interesting that his song choices take us on a journey chronicling love in all it’s many facets, ecstasy and heartache, romance and even patriotic love. While “Something About Always” is not a definitive overview of Simon’s career, the album does give a great taste of what he has accomplished so far. Perhaps when he does a follow up with a bigger band we will also get to hear a taste of his other roles such as Marius in “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom Of The Opera’s” Raoul. Until then we have “Something About Always” to tickle our taste buds.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Baby Look At Me!

High kicks and high fidelity, jock straps and leg warmers, big egos, big talents and sho sho sho shorofsky. Leroy Johnson, Doris Schwartz and Bruno Martelli. Friday night’s gonna be alright, Starmaker and if you don’t know by now what I am talking about the immortal words of Lydia Grant will give you a final clue. “You want fame? Well fame costs, and right here’s where you start paying…in sweat!”

Yes, of course, I am talking about “Fame” which for many of us who were growing up in the eighties was a pretty big deal. It’s hard to believe that it’s twenty nine years since the original movie was released and I can’t be the only one who is intrigued by the forthcoming remake which is scheduled to be released later this year. I suppose the timing is pretty good…with shows such as “American Idol” and “X Factor”, and of course “High School Musical” keeping audiences entertained on both sides of the Atlantic, plus the other movie musicals of recent years there is probably more potential interest in this saga of theatre students than at any time in the last thirty years. We can only hope that it’s not another “Britannia High”

Back in 1980 when Alan Parker’s original movie was released it didn’t make much of an impression on these shores but two years later the spin off TV series was launched and became an overnight success spawning hit records and a concert tour as well as a the odious trend of leg warmers! It really caught the imagination of many of us, and I remember well the excitement of getting “The Kids From Fame” on cassette. My favourite song on the album was “High Fidelity” the first single from the series which was incidentally sung by Valerie Landsburgh who played Doris – my favourite character. It has to be said that it really is a dreadful song but very much evokes 1982 for me if I ever hear it. A couple of other hit singles followed and for a couple of years “Fame” was big business, and somewhat of a phenomenon. They even came over and played in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Over the first two years they had five hit albums but by the third series the albums had stopped and as the original “kids” started to leave they were replaced by new ones who didn’t seem to have quite the same magic. The scripts became more and more formulaic and less and less viewers actually tuned in. So 1985 saw the BBC broadcasting “Fame” for the final time with it’s fourth series. I must admit I was quite sad that we never got to see the last two series’ over here, and if they ever get a DVD release I am sure I will end up buying them.

As for the new movie? Well, the trailer looks great (and far better than the West End stage version which I have to say I hated) and the soundtrack album is also worth a listen. The title tune and “Out Here On My Own” have both been retained from the original movie and are given great renditions by Naturi Naughton. Most of the rest of the score has a contemporary R & B feel and is really listenable, additionally you get Megan Mullaly from “Will & Grace” (who plays one of the teachers) singing a cracking version of Rodgers & Hart’s “You Took Advantage Of Me” . Also playing teachers (though not on the album) are Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwith – yes that IS Frazier Crane & Lillith. Last but not least stalwart of the orginal series Debbie Allen makes a cameo appearance as Principal Simms, whether we are supposed to think that this is Lydia Grant in a later, married, incarnation I don’t know….but I would like to think so.

Schmaltzy it may have been but to paraphrase one of Debbie Allen’s songs from the series in my heart “Fame” will always have a very special place.

“Fame” is released on 25th September

Sunday, 30 August 2009

I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out Dry

So I left you last time with a family reunion and The Doctor and Martha battling The Master. Well you will be pleased to hear that our intrepid time-travellers outwitted the malicious Time Lord. However, my neighbours were not so lucky. Needless to say they weren’t pitted against an alien megalomaniac….merely the drug squad. Yes, it was somewhat of a surprise to discover that just across the road they were operating a cannabis factory. This provided lots of fun for all my other neighbours as we enjoyed a good gossip, and I asked 78 year old Irene upstairs what she would do now she had lost her dealer….

Anyway enough of this nonsense and back to the serious matter of musical theatre! The third show that myself, Adam and Vina attended was “Billy Elliot” at the Victoria Palace. “Billy” is definitely one of my all time favourite shows and I could only hope that my guests would enjoy it as much. There are many things that I love about “Billy Elliot”. I love that it’s got a resolutely British score – very much of the Lionel Bart school. I love the humour and heart of the show. Most of all I love the way that the choreography of the piece, even in a moment where they are simply removing chairs from the stage, moves me like nothing else I have ever seen. It has to be said that I am not one of those people who cries in public. I can sob to any old nonsense sitting at home on my own (for god’s sake even Kerry Mangel being shot on a duck hunt in “Neighbours” accomplished that) but at the theatre and at the cinema I am stoic and can’t even squeeze a solitary tear out. “Billy Elliot” has to be some kind of exception to this though as not only did I cry once, but a further six times. I was a wet soggy mess by the time I left the theatre. Not only does it have the Father – Son relationship which can set me off, but it has “The Letter” from his dead mother too. Oh woe is me!!! It’s quite bizarre to be honest even the, afore-mentioned, chair removing during “Grandma’s Song” managed to make me snivel. I really was an embarrassment that night. In public too! Happily Adam and Vina left every bit as in love with the show as I am, albeit they were far more dignified and managed to hold back the tears.

Alongside our theatre going we continued to watch the Doctor’s escapades, now with Donna at his side, and the odd half hour of Judi Dench in “As Time Goes By” to provide us with a gentler form of televisual delight. We did however have one final show to go and see before Adam and Vina returned to the other side of the world.

So another theatre and another musical. I could even say another cross dresser as so far every show we had seen (“La Cage”,”Hairspray” and “Billy Elliot”) had seen men in some kind of frock. Our final show was no exception, although in this instance the men were dressed as nuns, for I was finally seeing “Sister Act”. I had seen bits of the show since it began previews but this was the first time I was seeing the whole thing in all it’s glory so I was particularly looking forward to it. We were joined by Adam’s friend Zara, who had been living in London for two years yet had never been to the theatre, along with my Thai neighbour’s niece, Pla. Pla is apparently a nick name and means fish (!!!)

“Sister Act” is a rare creature. A totally brand new show with a totally new score. Thank goodness that the producers didn’t take the easy path and regurgitate the songs from the movie. Instead they persuaded the oscar winning Alan Menken and his collaborator Glenn Slater (also the lyricist of the upcoming “Love Never Dies”) to compose one of the most entertaining collections of songs we have seen in the West End for many years. My particular favourite part of the show has to be “How I Got The Calling” when the nun’s explain how they came to the church, but there are many other catchy songs such as “Take Me To Heaven” and “Fabulous Baby”. The show really comes to life when Deloris gets the nuns singing of course, and I should mention Sweaty (or sticky as a colleague calls him) Eddie’s solo turn that has a really clever costume change……I’m not going to say any more though in case you haven’t see it yet. A final comment can only be that amongst a fantastic cast you we were left in no doubt that in Patina Miller we had witnessed a real star of the future. She is one sister who is not only doing it for herself but will go far!
We had an amazing night and Zara probably had the highest praise in that she had such a good time that she definitely wants to see more theatre after her first taste of a show. Possibly one of the funniest moments was provided by Pla however. Pla is terminally shy, shy to the point that she ran up the stairs at the interval to avoid talking to us and we didn’t see her again until the beginning of the second half. Seemed a bit fishy to me!

So four musicals (and around forty cross-dressers), a mis-diagnosed mini-stroke and swine flu, eggs Benedict and Salvador Dali, not to mention around twenty five episodes of “Doctor Who” a good couple of dozen “As Time Goes By’s” and a drugs bust, and it was finally time to say goodbye to Adam and Vina.

Adam followed his fortnight in London with ten days with our “Oma” in Germany and the following day I received the text “I am already bored in this sh***y little village”. Vina headed back to Mayotte after spending a few days with her centenarian father in Mauritius and I was left in a rather empty seeming flat only to discover that I had become hooked to the romantic comedy of Lionel and Jean. I can only hope that it’s not twelve years until Adam and Vina come and stay again. I may have been at home but it was as good a holiday as I have ever had.

In Closing
Very much off topic but I have been asked by redcoat extraordinaire Anthony Bristoe to mention an upcoming event. Scott Alan is a much loved songwriter from the states who has released two albums, “Dreaming Wide Awake” and “Keys” with vocals from the cream of broadways performers such as Liz Callaway, Sutton Foster, Shoshana Bean, Cheyenne Jackson and London’s own Kerry Ellis. Both albums are great and well worth buying however to get a more personal experience of his music Scott Alan is heading to these shores.
Simon Greiff (“Saturday Night Fever” cast member) is producing “The Music Of Scott Alan” at the Leicester Square Theatre for two performances on Sunday 11th October. Scott will be joined by a host of west end stars including Patina Miller, Caroline Sheen, Annalene Beechey, David Bedella and star of the upcoming “Love Never Dies”, Ramin Karimloo. The show’s promise to sell out quickly so be sure to check out for details of how to book.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Back To Before

Well, it’s been a long time hasn’t it? I must admit I have been trying to work out why it has taken me quite so much time to write another column. Perhaps it’s the seismic shock of hitting forty? Perhaps the stresses of a new show opening here at the Palladium? Perhaps even the fact that there hasn’t been a series proper of “Doctor Who” this year? Well who knows? I guess I will just have to use the well worn excuse of writers block and a lack of inspiration. One thing is for sure, for someone who works in theatre and writes about theatre I really don’t spend enough time actually going to the theatre. In fact for the first six months of 2009 I didn’t even go once! However in late July this was more than remedied when I saw a mammoth four shows in less than two weeks. I also had a very good reason.

Back in 1996 and 1997 I had two very enjoyable summers when my half brother, Adam, and his mum, Vina, came over from Germany to stay. Neither of them had ever really been to see a musical, but with me working in theatre I was well placed to introduce them to the joys of the show tune. We saw “A Little Night Music” ,“Oliver”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “The Phantom Of The Opera”, “Cats”, “Guys And Dolls” and even “On The Twentieth Century” at the Bridewell Theatre. Needless to say by the end of their 1997 visit they had both developed a great appreciation for a night out at the theatre. Then in 1997 they re-located to Vina’s home country of Mauritius and our blissful theatre going summers were consigned to history. That is until I got an email from my brother a couple of months ago with big news. By now Adam is based in Australia and his mum lives on the island of Mayotte (Google it if you want to see paradise) and (although I have seen Adam in the interim) the two were heading for London together for the first time in twelve years.

We had done much of the touristy thing on their last visits way back when but we were definitely going to have to see some theatre while they were here. Before that we decided on a little culture and on the Sunday we took the tube to St.Pauls and walked across the wibbly wobbly bridge to Tate Modern. Sadly the bridge neither wibbled nor wobbled, but as the sun shone it was a pleasant way to get to the Tate. I must admit that, although I have wanted to go to the gallery since it opened, I was quite worried that the exhibition would feature all those hideous “installations” such as modern artists who have pickled themselves in formaldehyde or, even worse, their dirty laundry strewn across the floor. Pleasantly, we discovered that the exhibition was almost all paintings and we enjoyed a contemplative couple of hours of Miro, Picasso and Dali amongst others before heading (with my friends Richard and Lisa who had joined us for the day) to Joe Allen’s for a late lunch. Happily they had my favourite, Eggs Benedict, on the menu.

Our plans for the next few days included a rather odd family reunion. Odd in that my brother would be meeting my mother, which would also mean that my dad’s two wives (who spookily share a birthday) would meet for the first time. My grandparents, whom they had both met previously were also heading down along with my sister Kate – another first. However these plans were to go somewhat awry…

Anyway, the day before our planned reunion saw our first sojourn to the theatre where we were to see “La Cage Aux Folles” at the Playhouse. I must admit that I was a little wary of seeing “La Cage” as the show had meant so much to me back in 1986 when I worked front of house at the Palladium in my school holidays. None the less, despite my ambivalence, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I really don’t think it’s a patch on the original version and some of the changes they had made didn’t quite work for me but it managed to press my emotional “buttons” at almost all the same points it always had. So, I found myself as moved ever by “Song On The Sand”, “Look Over There” and “The Best Of Times”, although I couldn’t help feeling that Roger Allam’s lack of vocal prowess diluted the power that “I Am What I Am” usually has. Despite this “La Cage” is still a beautifully crafted piece of theatre and Adam and Vina absolutely loved it and we were on a real high when we left until I spoke to my mum after leaving the theatre. I knew my Nan had had a “funny turn” earlier in the day, but it was still quite a shock to discover that her doctor thought she had a mini-stroke and she had been admitted to hospital for tests. So the following day’s plans were sadly cancelled.

We amused ourselves by going to Kingston and doing a little shopping, and (as by now I had managed to get them both hooked on the new version) watched several episodes of Doctor Who – and also for a change of pace a couple of episodes of Jean and Lionel’s autumn romance, “As Time Goes By”. Later that day good news greeted us as my Nan was being discharged from Hospital. However, ironically she was discharged only to spend the next five hours in the A & E department as my Grandpa had managed to have a fall. Clumsy bugger!

So another day and another musical, as we headed back into the west end to see the relentless dance-athon that is “Hairspray”. Although it didn’t have the emotional connection that “La Cage” holds for me, I had a fantastic night and thoroughly enjoyed it . Vina and Adam were a little less impressed than me but none the less we all had a great time – possibly helped by the phone call I had before setting off.

Despite the mini-stroke and fall situation my grandparents were determined to drive down fro Coalville the following day, although my sister was now not coming as she thought she had swine flu. Thankfully we now think that swine flu was not the correct diagnosis!

So the following day saw us enjoying a relaxed day of good food and good company as the two sides of my family finally met and any prospective tensions failed to materialise. In fact my brother said he almost feels like my grandparents are an “extra set” of grandparents for him, and my mum felt like Adam and Vina were extended family and looked forward to seeing them again some time. To make matters even better my Nan seemed healthier than I have seen her look in a long time and it’s since been discovered that she didn’t have a mini-stroke after all. Good news indeed, and as good a time to leave things for now as Adam , Vina and myself wave goodbye to my relatives and settle down for an evening of The Doctor, Martha and The Master…..

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Adieu, ADieu to Yieu and Yieu and Yieu

This one was rejected from the really useful website - but I guess it IS a tad irreverent...

Well, to paraphrase Oscar Hammerstein, our days in the hills have come to an end. Well almost, as 21st February sees “The Sound Of Music” take it’s final bows at the London Palladium after a successful run of over two years. One of the world’s most beloved musicals, it was hardly a surprise that Andrew Lloyd Webber had a hit on his hands. Let’s face it when it opened it was more than a hit – it was a phenomenon.

Of all the shows in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s catalogue nobody would have ever expected “The Sound Of Music” to be the one that broke new ground. However, with the inspired idea of casting by television (which now almost seems passé) Andrew and his good friend Auntie Beeb managed to not only find the people’s Maria but create the people’s musical. Of course many inches of news print have been given to “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?” and the subsequent stage production but I thought I would share a few of my own personal memories of the show with you.

It’s around three years ago that we first heard “The Sound Of Music” was coming to the Palladium. It’s fair to say we were all a little wary of the reality-show idea, but never-the-less we looked forward to seeing a big old fashioned musical in this big old fashioned theatre. In preparation there were many things we could have done but we decided to take our lead from the spirit of the film. Firstly we all had confidence in sunshine - that goes without saying! Secondly- and most importantly - we had to design a new uniform. The solution seemed easy and we set to work making a sparkling new outfit from the old curtains. A simple task one would think, however the old curtains were actually Venetian blinds and they chafed somewhat so that idea was abandoned. OK, OK so I made all that up but there have been a few other memorable moments. Honest!

One of the first memorable events was more akin to “Gypsy” than “The Sound Of Music” as hundreds of “stage-mothers” and their off spring descended on the theatre for open auditions. Of course instead of cries of “sing out Louise!” coming from the front stalls it was “Sing out Liesl”, and rather than “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” everything was coming up “Edelweiss”. Luckily a splendid group of Von Trapp children were cast in no time and they were all soon in rehearsal learning their do re mi’s and trilling about their favourite things. However, there were a couple of the stage mother’s who were not amongst our favourite things but the less said about that the better!

When it came to our Maria I think most of us felt, from day one, that Connie Fisher had what it takes to play Frau Von Trapp nee Rainer so it was no great surprise when she won the show and opened a few months later to rave reviews. However not everyone was a Connie fan. On more than one occasion we have been visited by a lady aged something between 55 and 70 who we would hear approaching from a distance. Yes, we could hear her, as she walked down Argyll Street, singing “The Sound Of Music” at the top of her voice. By the time she walked down the corridor this had often segued into “My Favourite Things” and she would enter with a twirl and, sometimes, a curtsey. All sweetness and light! Then the venom would be unleashed on our Maria’s. Connie, Aiofhe, Sophie, Summer and Gemma, none of them were safe. It would seem that our visitor felt that only she could ever be the true Maria and nobody else could live up to her performance of the role. It has to be said that in some ways I agree. She was definitely a lot to live up to!

It’s true that you can’t please all of the people all of the time but I always felt that Connie really did inhabit the role of Maria and, more importantly, (as I have previously revealed) she liked my home made cake. However, not everyone quite grasped her name. Many customers tried to buy tickets to see Connie Francis and on more than one occasion Carrie Fisher. An interesting concept I am sure you will agree. Somehow I can’t quite imagine Maria singing “Lipstick On Your Collar” to comfort the Von Trapp children during a thunder storm. Then, of course there is the image of her confronting the nazis with a light sabre and telling Georg “may the force be with you”.

We also have an occasional name problem with current Maria, Summer Strallen. We have often told a customer her name for them to repeat back “some Australian?” with a bewildered look on their face. Then again we did have “some Australian” in the cast for a year, the lovely Simon Burke as the captain. Simon has now sadly moved on but has kept busy with upcoming TV work and also appearances at Sydney Opera House and very soon at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Of course Summer’s casting in the show also had a TV connection as she came to us fresh from “Hollyoaks” where her character (also called Summer) won the role of Maria. A curious case of life imitating art which saw our disabled entrance transformed into the Palladium stage door and a memorable acting performance from the lord himself, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Summer proved a more than worthy successor and also made it a family affair with her Uncle Paul (Grunert – married to Bonnie Langford) playing Uncle Max.

Now, I can’t sign off without mentioning our many, many nuns.
From day one those amazing high notes of Lesley Garrett and Maggie Preece have thrilled our audiences as they beseeched them to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” at least until they found their dream…
Early in the previews I stepped into the theatre and was somewhat shocked to be faced with a dozen of the sisterhood clasping glasses of gin. Of course they weren’t really on the bottle, they were merely making a stage exit and clutching the votive candle holders they have at the beginning of the show. It’s much more fun to think of them as tipsy nuns though!
Then of course there is “the mysterious case of the incredible shrinking nuns”…which I will leave to your imagination other than saying we now have the most glamorous sisters this side of the Vatican!

Anyway, enough of this nunsense! Our Von Trapps, Nuns and assorted Nazi’s are leaving the Palladium in just a few weeks before launching on a national tour. However the Palladium is not to be a nun free zone as we are trading in our Austrian sisters for Americans with the opening of “Sister Act”. But, for now, all that remains is to say So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, and a last goodbye….

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Eartha, Gavalar and numerous alien threats!

Well it’s been a little while since I have written an intranet column so I thought it was high time that I thought of something to write for you. After all with all the credit crunchiness of current newspaper articles a little diversion is called for. So, as 2009 begins it gives me a great excuse to look back on 2008.

With all the current doom and gloom I think what we most probably need is an “Old Fashioned Millionaire”. Of course that’s the song that is most readily associated with the great Eartha Kitt who passed away over Christmas. Eartha really was a one off. With that distinctive growl you were never under any doubt about who you were listening to – and she had a distinctive personality to match. Back in the late eighties Eartha appeared in Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” at the Shaftesbury. Before she opened in the show she made a memorable appearance on “Wogan” where she appeared complete with a sequined eye patch and mangled most of the lyrics to “I’m Still Here”. That didn’t bode well for the show itself, but when I saw it she was truly electrifying. Possibly one of the most memorable performances I have ever seen. Miss Kitt was often to be seen out and about in town in those days as she famously walked to the theatre – wearing ankle weights. As good a way as any other to keep fit I suppose! Kitt was always good value for money and possibly the campest thing I have seen in my life was when she returned to the Shaftesbury in a short season of concerts. As the band struck up “Old Fashioned Millionaire” Eartha was lowered from the flies on a bed. High camp indeed! I doubt we will ever see her like again.

My new year’s resolution really has to be to see more theatre in 2009. I only managed to see two shows in 2008. A return visit to “The Phantom Of The Opera” where I was mesmerised by Ramin Karimloo’s performance as the Opera Ghost, and also a visit across the road to the Haymarket where “Marguerite” proved somewhat less mesmerising. There were elements of Michel LeGrand’s score that were lovely but over all it was terribly disappointing. Unfortunately I found the characters all incredibly unsympathetic and when Ruthie Henshall breathed her last, in a badly staged death scene, it appeared that she had died of a bad haircut. Here’s to seeing a few better shows in 2009. “Sister Act” anyone?

I did manage to see a couple of concerts however. Firstly the celebratory Don Black show at the Palladium which was stunning, and also Andrew Lloyd Webber’s birthday concert in Hyde Park. These events were both a lot of fun and the kind of once in a lifetime events that stay in your memory forever.

Of course, you are probably aware that I did have another once in a lifetime event when I won tickets for the Royal Variety Show. I feel privileged to have seen one of the best shows in recent memory. There were many highlights but the over riding memory will probably be of having a nightmare journey into town and arriving only ten minutes before we had to take our seats. Not a problem really however Sarah, my date for evening, insisted on buying us a bottle of champagne which we then had to consume in five minutes flat. Hic! We were certainly both very happy and jolly for the rest of the evening.

On the small screen 2008 was the year that saw me become a fan of “Gavin And Stacey”. Or should I say Gavalar and Stacey? Rob Bryden singing James Blunt songs was hilarious – not to mention his duet with Ruth Jones, whose performance as Nessa is sheer genius. Tidy!

The end of the year saw Jonathan Harvey’s “Beautiful People” on BBC2. It was the tale of a boy growing up in nineties Reading who is a little, well, different. Any fan of musical theatre should see it for the episode where the young leads audition for a school production of “Joseph”. As Simon stepped out of the front door to the strains of “Take That Look Off Your Face” his best friend Kylie (Layton Williams – the first black Billy Elliot and now in “Thriller Live”) joined in belting out “Tomorrow” from “Annie” – complete with high kicks . It was a real showstopper that ended with the entire street becoming one great yellow brick road as the cast danced away to “Ease On Down The Road”. If you missed it get the DVD. And yes that’s you I am talking to girlfriend!!!!

All in all 2008 was quite a good year for TV. It began with Vera Duckworth dying in “Coronation Street” , then came Jodie Prenger crying as she won “I’d Do Anything” before 95 percent of the planet was dying in a remake of Terry Nation’s “Survivors” .Then of course there was “Merlin”, “X Factor” and any number of great US shows. Special mention should also go to Tom Chamber’s and his stunning show dance in “Strictly Come Dancing”, conjuring up the spirit of the MGM musical in the kind of routine the show hasn’t seen before.

Of course I can’t sign off without mentioning one of my great obsessions. No I don’t mean chocolate as I am trying to keep of that for a while! I speak of course of “Doctor Who”. The 2008 series was a real stunner. David Tennant continued to thrill and Catherine Tate’s Donna was a revelation, and that ending with all of those past companions back in the Tardis fighting Davros was amazing. Anything that brings Sarah Jane Smith back to the show always works for me. I am happily spending early 2009 re-watching it all on DVD. You’ve got to love a DVD boxed set haven’t you? This year sees a Doctor-lite year for us and only a few days ago it was announced that Matt Smith is to take over the lead role as the youngest Doctor so far. It has to be said that Tennant is probably my favourite Doctor ever (apologies to Mr Davison and Mr Pertwee who previously tied for that privilege!) so I wasn’t overly chuffed when he announced he would be leaving the show. However after seeing Smith’s interview I think the show is in safe hands. Even though I haven’t yet seen any of his previous performances I feel that he has an ageless and other worldly quality about him, a “Doctorness” if you will. I can’t wait to see what he does with the role and think he’s a great choice. Potentially spine tingling in fact.

Having begun with Eartha Kitt it seems only right to close by remembering a few more people from the world of entertainment we have lost over the past year.
Writers – Harold Pinter, Michael Crichton, John Esmonde (The Good Life),Dale Wasserman (Man Of La Mancha)
Singers – Miriam Makeba, Yma Sumac, Bo Diddley, Lita Roza (of “How Much Is that Doggie In The Window” fame)
Oliver Postgate – creator of “Bagpuss”, and prankster extraordinaire Jeremy Beadle
Directors – Bob Spiers, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.
Actors – Heath Ledger, Majel Barrett (voice of the “Enterprise” computer in “Star Trek”) , Kathy Staff , Van Johnson, Richard Widmark, Paul Scofield, Guillaume Depardieu, Rob Guest (Australia’s long running star of “Phantom”), Ken Campbell, John Hewer (star of many West End shows and TV’s Captain Birdseye),Emmerdale’s Clive Hornby, Estelle Getty (The Golden Girls), the legendary Cyd Charisse and the inimitable Paul Newman

Last but not least, a very special mention to box office manager Billy Doyle who worked for RUT and Stoll Moss for many years. Those of us who worked with Billy will remember him, and his dry wit, with great fondness.

So all that remains is to wish you a very happy new year, and ask you to find a moment to raise a glass to Billy Doyle. A true West End character.