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…..