In part 1 of Music and Me, an occasional series of memoirs based on the music that has influenced me, I wrote about how my love of music came from my parents. In part 2, I talked mainly about classical works and in part 3, I took us to gigs with some of the great icons of rock music. Today, we’re going to the theatre and obviously, it’s got to be to watch a musical or two.
For my thirteenth birthday, a good friend took me to the Gaumant Cinema in Birmingham, to watch The Sound of Music. I loved everything about it: the huge screen, the vibrant colours, and of course the singing. The film had been out for six months, so I knew the music pretty well. I can still hear my friend’s indignant ‘sh’ when I started joining in with some of the songs.
Of course, seeing a musical at the cinema is one thing; seeing it live is a totally different experience. And I have seen several of my favourite musicals multiple times. I first saw Jesus Christ Superstar back in the 1970s when I moved to London. I’m fairly certain I went with newly-married friends on the day Princess Anne celebrated her wedding to Captain Mark Philips. Twenty five years later, I returned to see the revamped version when it reopened. I think I went with the same friends, but that might be my memory playing tricks on me. I do remember that the sound was even bigger second time around. My third, and favourite version, was a production by Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company in 2003. It was stripped back, less glitzy, but powerful nonetheless. And I don’t think the fact that I’m related to the Musical Director made me biased in any way.
I’ve watched Evita twice, once in London and again in Sydney during my first really long business trip, back in the 1980s. I discovered Return to the Forbidden Planet one evening when I was wandering around London with a few hours to kill. I’ve taken every opportunity to watch it since then, and take my husband and friends with me too, always to great acclaim. I’ve had less success with Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. My female friends and I love it; the men hate it. I’ve seen Joseph played by Philip Scofield; the late Steven Gately of Boyzone, who had a magnificent voice I’d not really expected from a pop singer; and more recently, Lee Mead.
I never saw Jason Donovan play Joseph, but I did see him in one of my other all-time favourites, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I know every word of both the script and the soundtrack of Rocky Horror, although I’ve never been to a sing-along version, or dressed up in fishnets and basque to watch a performance. I saw the original version in London although, to my shame, I have no idea whether any of the original cast was still in it by then. When Jason Donovan played Frank-N-Furter, the narrator was Nicholas Parsons, and I can never listen to Just A Minute without remembering him sitting in a wheelchair and kicking off the blanket to reveal his stocking and suspenders. But the most memorable narrator for me was Ainsley Harriot, here in Plymouth a few years ago, when he showed a talent for dealing with hecklers one would never have expected from watching him on Ready Steady Cook.
After fifty years of watching musicals, often multiple times, I love the fact that this music connects generations. You only have to think how many people still watch The Sound of Music each Christmas or Easter to see how enduring these shows can be.
Next time, I’m going to be making music, rather than listening to it. But for now, Readers, it’s over to you: which musicals do you love; and do you watch them more than once?