My blogging friend French Fancy recently asked me if, as well as act, could I sing and dance. My immediate answer was “no” shortly followed with a little chuckle to myself. The private chuckle was a shortcut version of “you wouldn’t ask that question if you’d seen/heard me try.” Perhaps I am too unfair on myself, that way. I’ve grown up with a taste and liking for musical theatre and at one point in my life you couldn’t keep me out of London’s West End enjoying Lloyd Webber’s latest opus.
How can you ever say how something started? A germ of an idea, a song heard, an experience encountered somewhere along the way. A visit to a pantomime in childhood or parents playing music at home. Music was taught at my junior and senior schools and although I wasn’t a particularly appreciative or attentive pupil I do remember being struck by the poetic power of a recording of Peter Grimes and the music for Peter and the Wolf. And I was only a small boy- nine or ten at most.
I feel this personal admiration for musical theatre is worth investigating and want to see where this enthusiasm came from. I guess ‘home life’ would be good place to start. Now my parents weren’t theatre goers but they did like the circus and we possibly attended a panto or two along the way. They also liked Variety shows live and televised and so I would have heard songs sung through that medium and possibly some were show songs. We did go and see films regularly and some of them would have been MGM and Disney musicals – Show Boat – South Pacific – Annie get your gun – Paint your Wagon, Mary Poppins etc. I remember rather fancying Doris Day in Calamity Jane, too. I was probably in my early teens. One Christmas I got given a book called Gotta Sing Gotta Dance so I must have shown some keenness. On a Sunday my step sisters and I got sent off to Sunday School and we sung the hymns there too. Reluctantly.
Speaking to my mum she reminded me today that we had Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Paint your Wagon, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and the Oliver film soundtracks on LPs along with other popular shows often playing on the record player at home in the background. My parents were also big fans of Harry Secombe and Shirley Bassey as well. Both of these artists vocally dramatic in their own right. This must have some influence, surely. Or is that Shirley? They liked Tom Jones too but that is not unusual. :0)
When I was around sixteen or seventeen I was a member of the Scout Association and got involved in the Scout Gang Shows in Derby. There was a lot of singing involved and these fun times would have been some of my early stage experiences. Then there was the group singing of songs that we used to sing around the camp fires and at scout meetings. Nobody minded if you weren’t note perfect. We just did it for camaraderie, all wrapped up in one’s badge filled and grubby campfire blanket, a cup of scolding hot tomato soup in a tin mug in hand and the sparks from the fire threatening to turn you into a singing fireball. The Gang Show singing had to be better as we had paying audiences and camp fires weren’t allowed on stage. Joking apart, I don’t remember the rehearsals being reliant on whether the young men were pitch perfect or not. I think enthusiasm and good spirit were the key to the entertainment.
As I got into my late teens I had left the Scouts and discovered beer. Slippery slope. Going down the pub suddenly seemed a lot more attractive than the cold Scout hut on Friday night. I had also joined The Littleover Players and got to know people who liked to go the theatre for entertainment. Almost instantly I became very keen on going to the brand new Derby Playhouse in the Eagle Centre in Derby. I would go and see ‘every’ play they did, often two or three times – much to my dear old Dad’s dismay who saw going to see anything more than once and paying for the privilege a scurrilous waste of money. I got seriously in Godspell (saw it many a time) and The Rocky Horror Show and Trafford Tanzi and of course, Jesus Christ Superstar. I also thrilled to go and see the film versions of JCS and Victor Garber and bouncy cast in Godspell.
Naturally, I collected the albums and played them in my bedroom at home, interspersed with Leo Sayer, David Essex, T.Rex , 10CC, Queen, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, that is. They came under my fuddy duddy Dad’s heading of Modern Muck, so I loved them even more. What would he have thought of Ruiyichi Sakamoto?
My step Mum has become a big fan of Phantom over the years and has been taken to a few shows in London and touring shows at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham. She’s great – she either falls asleep or hums along quite forgetting she’s in a public space with all with the various attendant siblings hushing her. Bless her.