There’s so much stuff to sing: my musical theatre appreciation renaissance

In the pub after choir a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of the fact that I’d mentioned we might do the odd show tune as part of the Sing Tower Hamlets repertoire every now and then. Joy! Seasons of Love was put forward as an idea, and goodness – who am I to argue?

It doesn’t take much to get me all animated about musical theatre. However, I am sad to say that it’s been a while since I’ve been really immersed in it.

At university I pretty much lived and breathed musicals.

That would be me, aged 18.

That would be me, aged 18.

Within weeks of arriving in York, I was cast in a production of A Chorus Line (complete with red sparkly bowler hats and waistcoats for the finale, and a not-entirely-convincing Puerto Rican accent in the part of Diana Morales), and after that there was no stopping me: I did about a show a term in the 6 years I was there (much to the chagrin of my tutors who for some reason wanted me to be focusing on Psychology for my degrees in, well, Psychology).

When I wasn’t performing in shows, you could probably find me talking about shows (with Fabs, Eamonn, Matt, Tim, and anyone else who’d listen), in the music practice rooms belting out some of my favourite tunes (with Oli), or on youtube comparing the gravity-defying capabilities of various Elphabas (again with Oli, most of the time with Liz looking on with an uncomfortable mixture of bemusement and deep affection).

Songs for a New World (2001)

Songs for a New World (2001)

It was during those years that I was introduced to the wonderment that is Jason Robert Brown (Rich – I am forever in your debt), performed and directed various Stephen Sondheim shows (that is if you can call taking a version of Company you’re in love with and putting it on in the Drama Barn “directing” – hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), and had way too much fun playing all the characters whilst singing along to Boubil and Schonberg soundtracks at home (sometimes even getting our King Charles Cavalier Spaniel involved in the role of Tam).

It would be wrong to say I took all those opportunities for granted while I was at university (I’m not sure how much more involved I could have been), and I’m still partial to a one-woman performance of Miss Saigon in my bedroom every now and then, but suffice to say that musical theatre has played a far smaller role in my life since I left uni in 2005. Which is, as they say, sad times.

It pleases me greatly, therefore, to say that I have recently had a bit of a musical theatre renaissance. I am yet to figure out a way, post-university, of talking people into putting on shows of my choosing so that I can be in them without taking on the responsibility of making them happen (any ideas welcome!), but February gave me several opportunities to be re-immersed in the joy of geeking out about musical theatre.

First, to the person who came up with the idea of making a film of Les Miserables, let me say this: I LOVE YOU. Having seen the stage show a good 4 or 5 times, and sang through the libretto word for word more times than I can remember, I was going in with high expectations, and I’m not saying I loved it all. But when it was good… oh it was so good.

The first time I saw it, I pretty much didn’t breathe until the end of the prologue, and by the time it got to Valjean’s Soliloquy, I was in bits. He barely gets out “what spirit comes to move my life?”, and yet it’s one of the most perfectly delivered lines in the whole film – not to mention the hopelessness with which he sings “as I stare into the void; to the whirlpool of my sin”. Argh – it’s just so good. Total class act. And then there was I Dreamed a Dream; for me, it doesn’t get much better than that. Anne Hathaway acted the living daylights out of that song – to the extent that it didn’t matter whether the notes sounded pretty or not. (Unlike Stars, which IMHO sounded more like a One Direction cover than the overflow of Javert’s defiant and legalistic heart. It pains me to join the bandwagon of Russell Crowe haters, but I struggled to not get annoyed by the fact that he stopped acting when he started singing – there seemed to be more emphasis on singing the right notes than really feeling it. Now, this is more like it.) In an interview about the making of the film, Anne Hathaway said, “There seemed to be something selfish about trying to go for the pretty version… I decided to apply the truth to the melody, and see what would happen.” – and THAT, my dear Anne, is how you absolutely bloody nailed it. Best Supporting Actress well deserved.

Of course, at any mention of the film, I have also enjoyed doing that musical-geek thing of pointing out that the Bishop in the film is the original Jean Valjean. Because I’m cool like that.

merrily_menier_progRight back at the beginning of February, I went to see the decidedly-less-epic but no-less-wonderful Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I am yet to be disappointed by a production at the Menier (other crackers include Tick Tick Boom, The Last Five Years, the ridiculously wonderful Sunday in the Park with George, and A Little Night Music, which was the last thing I saw there), and this was no exception. Franklin Shepherd Inc was predictably outstanding (writing that good demands someone brilliant to deliver it, and Damian Humbley certainly delivered par excellence), and Jenna Russell apparently just got on with being enviably awesome in yet another enviable role (Mary Flynn, The Baker’s Wife, Dot/Marie – I mean, come on). I’ve always felt that Our Time is a bit cheesy out of context, but by the time you get there within the show, it just feels like a relief to see Frank and Charlie back at the start, starry-eyed about music: “Gives you the shivers, makes you think: there’s so much stuff to sing.” Well, indeed.

I’m not sure those poor unsuspecting choir members realise quite what they unleashed in The Prospect of Whitby that night… now, where’s my Rent Vocal Selections…?

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1 Comment

Filed under Choir, Musical Theatre, Singing

One response to “There’s so much stuff to sing: my musical theatre appreciation renaissance

  1. Hannah CB

    Hi Leanne, It’s Hannah from RL! I loved reading your blog tonight, and wish I was living in London so I could join your choir! It’s so exciting for me to read or talk to people who share the same passion for singing and musicals as me! I agree, Les Mis was just phenomenal and I really want to see the stage show again to compare. I understand the story so much better now, having seen the film (twice!). For me, I prefer the film because I felt much more of the raw emotions that was being portrayed, by the end I was in uncontrollable floods! Hugh Jackman, Eddie and Anne Hathaway were just world class acts. I wasn’t disappointed with Crowe, in the sense that I wasn’t expecting much from him, but I really wish they had found someone who could carry both the character and the voice! In one of the interviews the director said how great or important it was to find a cast who were so comfortable with singing to tell a story, who made you feel like you didn’t want them to stop singing, but he can’t have been talking about Crowe because he seemed REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE with it. He sang them OK (not as bad as Pierce Brosman in Mamma Mia!) but he just didn’t put enough emotion into it, and he had two great solos songs! Anyway, move past that and you are left with an AMAZING film with an AMAZING cast! Can’t wait to own this on dvd!

    Back in January I went to see MY FAIR LADY at the Crucible in Sheffield, with Dominic West at Prof Higgins, and Carly Bawden as Eliza and it was THE MOST WONDERFUL MUSICAL I HAVE EVER SEEN! (I’d seen the film of course but never on stage). I was on the second row of the right side of the thrust stage so I was right near the action. EVERYTHING about this show was perfect… the singing, the staging, the costumes, the singing, the set, the singing, the dancing, the acting, the singing, the comic timing and did I mention the singing/music? I sat there the entire time with this massive goofy smile on my face, completely immersed in the magic of theatre and story telling and music. I can’t explain why it makes me feel like this, but I felt so happy with every fibre of my being, my soul, and I knew I had to see it again! So I managed to get a return ticket two days later to see the last friday evening performance of the run. AGAIN, just incredible. And if it comes to London later this year, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND going to see it and taking everyone you know with you! Dominic West is a shinning star and a charming, convincing and elevating Higgins. His spoken/singing voice fits beautifully with the character and is so focused and enchanting he just draws you into his world. Carly who played Eliza has a beautiful, pure voice (and she’s only 24!) and was brilliant at swapping between the cockney and posh parts. In fact all of the cast were fantastic. I could really talk about it all night, but all you need to know is that if you get the chance… just book tickets and go (maybe twice)! I was on a ‘high’ from seeing that show for a good three weeks after and I’m still singing the songs now!

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