When asked my Theatrical Highlights for 2015 by BroadwayWorld I found I was spoilt for choice. So having given only the briefest of nods to those fabulous shows in that piece (see here), I’ve been terribly indulgent and gone to town on them with my musings below…
My outings mainly revolve around supporting my friends in their shows and this year was no exception. It’s been a busy year for me what with playing Ulla in The Producers and Lois in Opera North’s Kiss Me Kate (with lengthy rehearsal periods and heavy publicity schedules to factor in), but in between booking digs and lugging a suitcase around the British Isles I managed to squeeze in as many trips as I could whenever possible.
And, blimey, I squeezed in an awful lot! My theatrical diary reads like a metaphorical Christmas dinner – with all the components being delicious and complimenting each other and yet very different in texture and taste – I have been to concerts, musicals, plays, workshops, Secret Cinematic events (which has set me up nicely to see Star Wars) and Live ones too as well as smaller scale cabarets and personally singing on radio shows. It’s a wonder I managed to fit in any work at all!
As Kiss Me Kate was amongst The Guardian’s Top Ten Classical Highlights of the year (Bravo Team Kate!) I decided to follow suit and do my own Theatrical Top Ten as I couldn’t narrow it down any more than I already have. Humour me, folks, you all know I’m stagey at heart… and it is Christmas after all. So, are you sitting comfortably with your glass of mulled wine in hand? Good. Then I shall begin.
And so – in no particular order…
Everyone knows that Killian Donnelly is an utter star. This was the first show I had seen him in, and alongside and the magical Matt Henry the pair of them made it a sure-fire hit. The script is witty and fast-paced and the costumes are bigger, brighter and glitzier than a Disneyland Parade down Main Street. I always feel at home being back at The Adelphi, having spent a great many years there popping in and out of Chicago as Velma – and so naturally I sat in the audience yearning to be back on that stage, playing the role of Lauren (her number “The History of Wrong Guys” is genius) – but Amy Lennox plays it so perfectly that I can’t imagine anyone else, least of all me, being able to nail it so brilliantly. I would love them to record a cast album, as the Broadway version doesn’t do the British accent justice! Also, special mention has to go to the ingenious way in which they incorporate telling people to turn off their mobile phones at the start of the show. More of these please! My audience companion for the night was Richard Meek and seeing as this show contains fabulous men in heels, let me seamlessly segue to my next highlight.
I caught the screening of Rocky Live whilst I was rehearsing with Opera North. The entire cast were physically honed to perfection and not a single joke passed without an audience retort or titter. The above mentioned Richard Meek was fabulous as Doctor Scott and Eddie, but he still remains my all time favourite Brad which I saw him play at a previous outing to see the show. He epitomises the role for me. As does David Bedella playing Frank. There’s a reason why Richard O’ Brien loves him so much in this role – he’s perfection in a corset and heel. I had spent the beginning of the year with him in The Producers where his flamboyant Roger De Bris had murmurs of Frankenfurter. It was wonderful to see him play both. Rocky Horror is now back out on tour so catch it if you can – Kay Murphy’s toned body is worth the ticket price alone!
I also caught The Winter’s Tale and Hamlet as live screenings. For two Shakespeare plays they were incredibly different. The staging and set of Hamlet at the Barbican was very powerful (and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith in particular was a joy to watch). And Dame Judi and Kenneth Branagh were brilliant at the Garrick – I cannot wait to catch more of Brannagh’s season there, his naturalistic “non declamatory” way of performing Shakespeare is just perfect.
I also was gutted not to have been able to get to see Imelda Staunton in Gypsy at The Savoy, but am delighted that it’s being screened over Christmas (on BBC4 at 9.00pm on 27th December).
The play that is set at Theatre Royal Haymarket and is being shown at The Theatre Royal Haymarket. I have very fond memories performing in Sweet Charity at The Haymarket and I was intrigued to discover that my director, Matthew White, was part of the initial read-thru of the play at the writer’s kitchen table a few year’s back! Small world. Great play. Great cast. Three words- Simon Russell Beale. Well worth seeing (it closes at the end of January, so hurry).
*An Evening with Mel Brooks (Prince of Wales Theatre)
In a year when I was playing Ulla in The Producers it seemed that the stars had aligned, as Mel Brooks was in town doing a one-off performance at the Prince of Wales theatre. I was lucky enough to be there with fellow Producers cast-mates Cory English, Jason Manford and Phil Jupitus, and getting to meet the great man after the show nearly turned me Jewish with joy. Oy. His anecdotes and banter were insightful, and it was a particularly touching moment when his grand-son was prompting him from the audience when he was telling a story about Blazing Saddles and forgot the lyrics. There was a wonderful atmosphere and it was quite a night to remember.
Also at the Mel Brooks evening was a former Leo Bloom from The Producers, Reece Shearsmith. I caught him at The Royal Court in a production of Hangmen which has since transferred to The Wyndhams Theatre (sadly without him, but still with a knock-out script and superb cast). Set in the 1960s the show’s humour is macabre and reminded me how far equality for women has come (though not far enough) with some of the dialogue making the audience squirm in their seats. Reece had the funniest moment of the night, his comedic timing was second to none.
I had no idea what to expect and I absolutely loved every second of this rapping, dance-marathon of a show. I adore Drew McOnie’s choreography and, as always, he didn’t disappoint. Vocals from Jade Ewen were sublime and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (and growing bump) were scene-stealingly brilliant. My feet tapped and torso jigged throughout and I had to restrain myself from jumping up and joining in (thank gawd I did- I can do a mean Fosse walk or A Chorus Line jazz leap but ‘Street’ I ain’t). It was also wonderful to see David Bedella again too – on this occasion not wearing an outrageous ball-gown on stage as he did in The Producers, or leather and fishnets as he did in Rocky Horror. It’s a must-see – just do it!
*Oklahoma (The Lowry)
Whilst on tour in Manchester I was able to catch the mid-week matinee of Oklahoma at The Lowry. I had an ulterior motive as my soon-to-be Bill in Kiss Me Kate, Ashley Day was playing Curly. Well, I grinned from ear to ear throughout as he makes a terrific leading man- he has triple threat stamped all over him. And, as I later discovered – a cracking sense of humour, a gorgeous little dog and a stonking pair of thighs to boot… too much?! Oh, and the show was pretty good too.
* Charlie and the Chocolate Factory & Sondheim 85th Gala (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)
I know it’s not a new show but it’s one that I have had on my list for a while to see. Plus, it’s always a delight to see my old mucker Josefina Gabrielle. The lady is a triumph as the ‘Mommy water’-drinking, slightly un-hinged, Bree Van de kamp-esque Mrs. Teevee. I also adored the clever and imaginative way the tap-dancing Oompa-Loompas were utilised. The show was a magical extravaganza and I’m so glad I saw it at Drury Lane.
It was also wonderful to perform at “The Lane” (stagey) later in the year at a star-studded Gala celebrating Sondheim 85th Birthday. I performed a number with the wonderful Alistair McGowan who I had met when he came to see my Cabaret at The Crazy Coqs. But the evening belonged to Bonnie Langford, whose “Boy, Can That Boy Fox-Trot” with Anton du Beke brought the house down. I loved hearing her during rehearsals tell Anton to push and hold her leg higher as it had to be on a par with her nieces. The woman is a legend. Truly inspirational and a joy to behold. (you can see more photos of the Gala here)
Other mentions have to go to Millicent Martin who was a rip-roaring hoot and hearing Sondheim’s cutting lyrics performed so beautifully by lovely dear friends Rosemary Ashe and Laura Pitt-Pulford. I’d been with Rosie and others on a Witches of Eastwick outing to see our horny devil Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks and Craig Revel Horwood (who’d directed us in our Watermill Theatre coven in 2013) as Miss Hannigan in Annie at the New Wimbledon Theatre (they were both fantastic, as were the kids, but the dog of course stole the show); and had seen Laura in the fabulous Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, braving the wet summer at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
Having previously been blown away by The Color Purple and Merrily We Roll Along (as well as having personally spent a fond Christmas there with Sweet Charity) I was agog to see Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl at the Chocolate Factory. With cast mates from The Producers, Rebecca Fennelly and Joel Montague also starring in the show, it proved to be a roller-coaster of emotions and did not disappoint. Sheridan had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand and she has a stage-craft that was a masterclass to behold. It’s no surprise that this production is transferring next year to The Savoy, where it’ll fit in perfectly. Get your ticket now if there are any left! No need to write much more as I’m sure this show will be talked about throughout the year.
In October, I was invited to The Crazy Coqs to perform my own one-woman show, “When you got it, Flaunt it!” Earlier in the year I had performed at St. James Studio as part of a sell-out evening called The Desperate Divas with Anita-Louise Combe. For the evening at The Crazy Coqs, I was re-united with the musical genius that is Leigh Thompson whom I had met and become firm friends with on The Producers. His knowledge and musical expertise are second to none and he whipped up a number of fabulous arrangements for me that were a joy to perform. It was also a very special evening as it was my first wedding anniversary and it’s not every show where you get the chance to serenade your husband in a room packed with your nearest and dearest! It was pure heaven to sing both “Why Can’t You Behave?” from Kiss Me Kate and “Flaunt It” from The Producers without a hint of a foreign accent in either. (click here for more photos). A couple of friends were turned away at the door as it was already too packed, and so I do hope to see them (and all of you) at the next one! I have been asked back to perform again in 2016 which is rather wonderful.