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.