Monday, 28 December 2015

'Our Imelda'...(nothing to do with shoes)

I've loved Musical Theatre for as long as I can remember.  Who cares why I fell in love with it (certainly not with some of the poor versions of shows I have in my memory bank anyway) - but love it I have and do.  Like most performers, musical theatre has become my short hand, it's become my life soundtrack.  Feeling  happy? On goes the Herman as I sing, dance (AKA March) around the room.  Wanting to let off steam....on goes either an angst song, guaranteed to make me sit and blub or the Book of Mormon telling me to 'get over myself...and quickly'.  And so it continues. Basically I've found that Musical Theatre creates a coherent soundtrack for my life.  If there's a gap, then my own 'trade' means that I end up writing my own.

Whilst growing up this was not such a good thing.  I was supposed to like all the latest chart music....but to be honest I didn't even know who was in the charts...let alone what they were doing there.  Not such a great thing for the 14 year old girl from the local comp, who rather enjoyed practising the piano during a lunchtime instead of pushing boundaries, and hanging out with the cool people.  I then did the cardinal sin....I ended up going out with someone equally as 'dull'.  Of course in reality they weren't dull at all, they were really interesting (and have gone on to be a multi award nominated graphic designer working in the glamourous world of cutting edge TV special effects.) So two outsiders...both with teenage dull interests(a good lesson there if you've stumbled upon this blog during your 'cool age' - the people that you once considered dull and boring, might just have had their eye on a bigger prize.  Of course...they might also, just have been dull and boring ;-) )

Being Welsh I got a bit lucky at 16 when things got serious with the school Eisteddfod...which basically meant that my 'dull' hobby became my strength, I suddenly became much more acceptable, as the school was put into houses which had to provide a 'house choir, a house 'soloist' and so it went on. I literally went from loser to winner overnight.  I became truly 'useful', I was no longer the last person waiting to be picked for the team (a familiar picture for many a musician).

I shan't bore you with the rest of my history...suffice as to say that Musical Theatre has gone on to play a rather huge part in my life....some might say that it's even gone on to define who I am as a person. For the past 30 years I've managed to make a living out of it, and nowadays I even inflict my 'hobby' on groups of  students hoping that I can enthuse them to also follow their passion and make it work for them.

With that sort of legacy, it's quite hard work watching shows. Some are enjoyed and restore your belief that you were were right to devote so much time to the art form, others leave you frustrated at wasted opportunities...then once in that proverbial blue moon, one comes along that you just HAVE to see.

This year for me it was the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Gypsy staring our very own Imelda(let's face it, there's not a performer around that doesn't want to be her mate, we've all heard countless times that she's as lovely off stage as she is powerful on stage...therefore for that reason alone she's 'our very own').  Surely one of the most unassuming great actors of our generation?  From Vera Drake to Sweeney she just delivers...and then some.

I first saw her many moons ago when she was playing the Baker's Wife in the original West End production of Into the Woods.  I knew even then, as a fresh (ish) faced young twenty year old that her Moment in the Woods was better than was exquisite. The use of the head and chest voice was like a masterclass to the young singer watching (that was me by the way).  In fact to this day, I use the recording of that song as a reference to singers struggling with the concept of using the voice in different ways (apologies to the Estill people out there who will be explaining her nuances in a completely different way).

Too many shows in between to mention...but every time I saw her she was just brilliant. Then came the whisper that she'd be playing Mama Rose, not so quickly followed I should add, by the public announcement of a) the Chichester run and then b) the West End transfer.  In 2 and a half years of being a mum, myself and my long suffering OH and I have managed 1 afternoon off together to have a 'date'. however when this show went on sale, we bought our tickets knowing that we just had to have one more date to catch 'our Imelda' in the ultimate role of "Rose'.  We had the added bonus that Louise was going to be played by The MTA's Patron Lara Pulver we knew that the date would be rather special.  The final cast and creative team were announced, and it was just obvious that this wasn't just going to be a production of could very well be THE production of Gypsy for some of us.

There is always a pressure on a date....especially when you literally have one a year. So we'd gone out for a nice meal beforehand, but both of us were still in that parent trap of wondering if our child was OK, had we remembered everything...parents amongst you will know the sort of thing.

But then things changed....we got to the Savoy (always a special theatre to me, as I'm a bit of a G&S bore too...I mean it really is no wonder my school friends and I had nothing in common)

Can there be any argument about the Gypsy overture summing up the best of a Broadway overture? As soon as that infamous overture started (and what a band I should add)....we were transported into the magical world of MT one more time. However this time it was like a vortex that dragged us in and just would't let us go.  As that brass section kicked in, all thoughts of my chil disappeared into the more rational brain compartment of 'well the babysitter will tell us if there's something wrong'.

The show was everything you would have hoped for and a million times more.  I've never, ever felt the need to give someone a standing ovation in the middle of a show before. However to be honest on this occasion I just didn't have a choice. Roses's Turn was painful, and heartfelt, and bitter, and angry...and....and.  I mean you name it 'our Imelda' went through it.  There can be little doubt that Imelda deserves every award going for that performance. However let's not forget (as a wise man once told me)...that for every 'star' they are elevated by the people around them. The 'Gimmick' girls, so brave with their choices, and so brilliant throughout. Peter Davidson supported 'our Imelda' as she kept rising above everyone, whilst maintaining a humour and humanity in Herbie,  which made it all the more powerful when he'd had enough. Then Lara Pulver as Louise was just simply stunning. So I have a disclaimer of knowing her (only insomuch as she's the college's Patron)...but I didn't recognise the person that I knew up on that stage at all.  As she transformed into the Diva that was Gypsy Rose hear the vocal quality change, the posture slowly evolve...just so inspiring.  I've said since I saw the show, that had she not been playing in the same show as 'our Imelda' then all the plaudits would be thrown at her.

Some date it turned OH and myself walked to Covent Garden without saying a word. Every time we went to say something on the tube we just let it g['p[o.  For once...the theatre had said it all.

I don't think that the West End has ever got it quite so right.  How brilliant then that the BBC opted to film it before it closed, and then broadcast it over the Christmas period.  The West End had hit social media...I didn't read one negative comment on twitter last night about the show, and I have never see that before.  People were shouting that it should have been on BBC 1 but what difference does it was ON...we could ALL watch it again.  Never have I been so proud of our industry - we really do celebrate excellence.

A week earlier we had a more mixed reception to the extraordinary feat of The Sound of Music Live...but again Musical Theatre was on the TV.  Our art form had returned to the masses....indeed from where it started way, way back!  Of course nowadays the masses have a bigger choice, but as long as a few people stepped outside of their comfort zone it was job done.

I was saddened by the instant twitter frenzy of 'what should we do next?" Those bloody polls started popping up, as if someone had a hotline to the BBC or ITV ready to say 'thanks..we've now chosen....' Personally (and indeed I did voice this on twitter) I felt that the night belonged to the cast of Gypsy (a bit like the week before actually...when it belonged to the SOM Live cast).  In the case of Gypsy, it wasn't filmed just to get a bit of MT onto our screens, it was filmed/archived because everyone knew that what was being created on that stage was a once in a lifetime performance.  I very much doubt that I will see a better Rose than 'our Imelda'...and you know I very much that I'll see a better supporting case, or band, or technical crew than that particular production.  For me, personally, it was a definitive, career defining performance....that's why it was filmed.  The world of theatre remains magical if we only see those performances every so often.  It doesn't mean that we have to rush to find the next one.

For days, weeks, even months later I honestly still think about that show. I still get goosebumps thinking of 'our Imelda' doing the 11 O'Clock number.  I can't wait to be able to watch it over and over when/if they bring out a DVD (notice how the teenage geek, grew up to be a 'what the hell..I'm a geek' geek) I'm not ready to search for the next show to be filmed...I hope that we don't rush, and I hope that we wait until the next definitive performance hits the boards...and then, and only then, should we film and archive it.  I know that most shows are unofficially archived but may the British theatre be quite to publicly archived for its excellence...not just for some TV ratings....and never for a twitter poll.

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