We arrived in London late at night on Wednesday. Sadly much too late for the show. But this left us with plenty of time to move into our hotel room (conveniently situated just around he corner from the theatre but with a very small bed…good thing we get along so well!). Naturally we ended up at the Shaftesbury stage door before we headed out to get some food. It was good fun to lean at the backdoor with your ear pressed to the wall, trying to determine where they are in the play. We established it had to be You Can't Stop The Beat, but as this song has several reprises during the finale, we could not pinpoint how long it would be before the show really finished (you would think that after well over 20 performances we would know the finishing time…ah well). Quite confusingly some of the ensemble left when the song was in full swing. After several false alarms the show really did finish and we resumed out place a bit further down the street to let the audience have their moments with the cast.
We saw that Charlotte was there instead of Leanne and began to fear for our Thursday and Friday shows. We knew we would see Charlotte on Thursday afternoon, but would have been really sad not to see Leanne as Tracy, now that the final, final night dawned every closer. When Michael got out eventually he seemed fit and happy. His hair is now way shorter than at our last visit and he has lost so much weight…It was a joy to behold. When other fans talked to him before he got into his car we seized the opportunity to say hello. He was all smiles and seemed to look forward to the concert. When he sat inside his car he pulled the window down and leaned his head on the frame, saying in a small voice that he was tired. It really made you want to pick him up and tuck him into bed instantly. And he told us all that he has invited the entire cast to a curry the next evening. So no early nights for Michael in the foreseeable future.
When he drove off we finally understood that we were really back in London where we belonged and has a day of two wonderful Hairspray performances ahead of us – at the same time we were aware of course, that this was the beginning of our second last trip to see the show. A weird mix of excitement and gloom was going be our constant companion on this trip.
Even though we had tickets for the evening show, we still needed some for the matinee, so we were back at queuing after a rather short night in a let's say “cosy” bed. We had no idea whether there would be loads of people (with it being birthday week and all that) or no one at all. The one thing we did know for sure was: we would not be standing there at 6 am, as we had to do in the beginning of the run. So we got there at 8 am and were amazed to find only one lady at the theatre. She asked us whether she was standing at the right place to Q (in fact she didn't. Experience has taught us not only the cleaning routine for the foyer but also which door opens first). It quickly turned out that the lady was from Germany, too (why is it that we fly all the way to London to always end up q-ing with other Germans??). Apparently an avid musical fan and she told us about cast members from all major West End shows and how she would be seeing only those shows in London that were not coming to Germany at one point or other. We cannot understand this as the quality of German musical theatre is so inferior to UK standards, also because all the shows are sung in German…imagine that…Mamma Mia in German…a mix of Abba and Wagner! And last but not least the ticket prices in Germany are ridiculously high. So, as you can tell, we are no friends of the German musical scene. This rendered conversation kind of tricky. She was going to see Hairspray for the very first time (this is someone who could tell you where to sit in every theatre in London and who saw every boy who ever played Billy Elliot). We could hardly believe our ears…and it turned out she wanted to see the show as it will come to Germany in December (shudder – Hairspray in German!). Ah well, whatever the motivation we could at least talk about the show (and Michael) a bit and after a while some more people turned up (a hand full and shortly before the box office opened, had we known that we could have turned up at ten am, but you simply can never tell). We got out desired seats and headed off to grab some breakfast.
Being back at the stage door waiting for Michael to arrive for the matinee was wonderful. It felt like the natural Bunny habitat. Kerstin was keen to test her new camera. Sadly the old one broke and only days before us leaving for London she has gotten herself a new one. Same make, but much bigger. The downside of the super zoom and new features is of course that all the ideal settings were gone and we couldn't predict how the camera would react to the somewhat tricky light situation in Grape Street (and a fast moving Ball in a fast moving crowd). The stage door felt like a Fan Club event and it was wonderful to see all our friends again. What was extra special was seeing our friend Doris from the US for the first time in the flesh after she helped us so much when we were in New York three years ago. That's the most fantastic thing about stage doors: You get to meet all your friends there at one point or another. It was so great to finally hug you in person, Doris! And great to meet Chris, too!
When THE CAR finally pulled up and Michael got out we could barely contain our excitement. It is astonishing how much his sight gets to you sometimes. But this trip we were there to make photos and do some filming, so we did step back and just watched and documented. He looked gorgeous in is patterned shirt (photos can be found here ). Andrew wasn't there yet though and people kept handing presents and bags to Michael. Finally he desperately called out to the stage door whether there was someone there to help him (and he muttered “I need a camel.” LOL). Fans then helped to hand everything to someone inside the theatre and this problem was sorted. He posed for photos and chatted happily to everyone. When he was inside we remained at the stage door (it is always astounding how fast a crowd can dissolve once Michael has disappeared) and talked to a few remaining fans when Adrian walked down the street. To die for in a tight pink shirt. As always he greeted us very friendly and posed happily for lots of greedy lenses. We told him we were so happy to see him on tour with Michael and he told us how scared he was that people might boo him and how he needed all our support. Well, how could we not support him and we assured him we were a very friendly audience and everyone would cheer him.
Before the show we rush to buy a new programme. They made a lovely new cover reading “Farewell Michael!” and a sweet Edna picture. So we had to have one. The matinee went smoothly but sod's law has it that for the first time we are back in the show after Sandra Marvin is no longer the understudy for Motormouth Maybelle but promoted to do the role fulltime we don't see her on stage but her understudy Tania Mathurin. We have seen Sandra as Motormouth 99% of the times we have been to Hairspray so it came as quite a shock not to have her there. Tania was very good but we still missed Sandra. Humans are creatures of habit.
Even after having seen the show 27 times, it still felt as fresh and lively as ever. We couldn't stop smiling all the way through it.
After the show we resumed our places opposite of the stage door and watched the madness unfurl. Michael only ever steps out of the door to do autographs and photos, he doesn't leave the theatre. So a huge crowd of excited theatregoers huddles round the door and he works away as if it was for the Guinness book of Records, trying to please as many people as possible before he has to go in, have food and rest. We have seen this many times before, but never quite like that. He kept announcing he really needed to get back in and was leaving now while at the same time signing whatever was held in front of him in extra speed. It was an awe-inspiring display of extreme-autographing. He really earned his lunch! And he was wearing the shirt Doris has given him. Also in addition to the weight loss his hair is rather short at the moment and was still wet and dark. He looked absolutely stunning. (photo proof)
We had some food and got changed for the evening show. This time not in our usual front row seats but a row behind it. It felt like a fan club reunion again, as the whole row was made up of fans and friends. It gave us a taste of what 25 July will be like. No glitches whatsoever and we left the theatre smiling and singing, as usual.
When we waited outside we could watch a rather large group of young people who started singing chants for various cast members and bits of You Can't Stop The Beat. We think maybe they were from some drama school or similar, as they sounded really well and seemed to know Emma Dodd (a swing). We could see Adrian and Ben taking it in turns to look down from their dressing room (?) windows to look down at the crowds…and they were wearing no shirts which caused a lot of delight. It was quite a spectacle. Every now and then cast members scurried out and walked up the street towards Covent Garden. Oh how we wished we could have joined them, as surely an evening out with The Ball will be hilarious. Then it was Michael's turn to leave. He signed a few things and was off before we knew it. We said our good byes to our friends and stayed behind a bit to watch the remaining youngsters who were still waiting for Ben and Adrian. (We suddenly felt a bit old). We started walking up the street back to our hotel when we heard a commotion. It turned out that Ben and Adrian had left the building only to be surrounded by eager females. So much fun to watch! Whenever Ben managed a few steps forward he had to wait to Adrian, the ladies saw he stood there and were all over him. This meant that Adrian was free and could walk up the street a little, but then had to wait for Ben in turn only to be then mobbed again by a small crowd. We wished him a good dinner and he just smiled and said “yeah, if we ever get there!”. It really didn't look too promising at that point. What was more was that there were no other cast members to show them the way. We finally turned our back to the spectacle but met the boys again at the traffic lights. A funny feeling to have those two walking behind you somehow. When our paths parted we wished them a good night out and they said their good byes. Lovely lads.
We got ready for the night and dozed off in front of our miniscule telly when at 1:23 am I woke up to the news that Michael Jackson had died. I read the headline three times before I woke Kerstin up to tell her what happened. What a shock! Now that all these concerts were only weeks away…This kept us awake for another two hours – watching the news in silent disbelief. A sad day for pop music.
More news-watching all morning until we had to get out of the hotel to get some breakfast (we were too late for the hotel one), a birthday card for Michael…and a pen to write it. Oh yes, we were so well prepared – not. We had to be back by half past ten though for Michael (Ball, not Jackson) was to be on This Morning and for once we were going to be in the country in front of a telly, ready to watch him in full glory. YES! We didn't bother q-ing for tickets for we had pre-booked. But when we walked past the box office there were only a handful of people there….and we can resist everything except temptation. We vowed to be good and only check whether “our” seats were still available. And then, only then, would we do a double booking. To cut a long story very short: we left the theatre with four tickets to our names. Oh dear. If we had only known how quiet the box office would be…
We made it back just in time for Michael was to be the first guest. Funnily enough Kevin Webster from Coronation Street was also on the programme and naturally they showed this clip from 1984 with Michael shoving tiny Kevin out of the picture. The hosts made a big point of having the two in different sets so the age old vendetta wouldn't continue. On cue Michael walked over to Kevin's set and started pushing him again just like he did in his brief stint as Malcolm Nuttal (in very short shorts!). Such fun! For his interview they showed a lovely montage from the Love Changes Everything video, Edna, Eurovision and Soapstar Superstar. It was followed by a lovely interview on Hairspray (he now understands everything about women needing their armour of hair, make up and clothes), on 25 years in showbiz, on the tour (first Royal Albert Hall concert complete sell-out) and on his new charity Shootingstar. He hinted that he might be doing a concert for them in December. What joy to be watching this live and not weeks later when a kind soul sends us the DVD recording.
When we finally got a card for Michael after a bit of a rummage through Covent Garden it was time to return to the Shaftesbury for our third holiday treat (1 and 2 were Hairspray and the concert): the guided theatre tour. We gathered in the foyer, perhaps 20 or so people. Some we knew and most we didn't. We were guided into the stalls and were told to take a seat. It was great to spend more time in the plush theatre and to be sitting there with the stage all lit and some props still on it. Our hosts were Dan the theatre director, Mark the company manager and Tim the electrician who also filled us in on the historical background of the theatre. We learned a lot and Mark had only wonderful things to say about Michael and how sad they were to lose him now. He said if we thought he was funny on stage we should see him backstage (YES PLEASE!) where he is hysterical! Apparently this is a happy company, with lots of kind and funny actors. We were then taken into the wings (tiny! No space whatsoever!!), onto the stage (ditto) and even underneath it to see where they do all the costume changes. The highlight for us was holding up Velma's Finale dress which weighs 12 pounds!! How this tiny person can move around in that thing…and the wig is not much lighter!
After about an hour that felt like 10 minutes we left through the stage door. What a feeling to be leaving through the door we only every see Michael disappear into. Andrew just walked in and we assured him we were allowed to be there and Dan backed us up. You really wouldn't want Michael's assistant thinking you are illegally trespassing. We met Joan and Allison outside who told us Michael is already in. He was really early (ten to three or such) as they had a camera crew there. How sad. We would have liked to provide you with more stage door photos but it was not meant to be. Occasionally we could hear music in the street for the new cast was in and they were rehearsing next door. We ended up standing there talking for almost two hours and then went off to celebrate Allison's birthday at Pizza Express…sadly we had an encounter with the most abysmal waiter in living memory. Wrong food, correct food too cold, then overcooked, ignoring us, serving the wrong people and all the while through it looking really, really grumpy. It felt like being back in Germany! But rest assured we had quite a laugh.
Then it was time to head back to the hotel to get changed one last time this trip for our 10 th performance of Hairspray. Our friend Hanne kindly bought one of our spare tickets, so at least it was only one empty seat there. We were determined to enjoy this evening even more than the others as not only was it the 30 th but the last show before this final week in July where we will have to say good bye to it all.
It was utter bliss. If someone would have told us 2years ago that we would see this show more often than Chitty and still enjoy it as much as we did on our first ever time we would have thought them mad. But here we are, completely addicted.
Afterwards we had the chance to exchange a few words with Leanne (who loved our dresses, teehee, they were bought for exactly this evening, so this paid off) and Michael (who also liked our look). We gave him his birthday card (and we will not tell you when we finally got round to write it, this would be way too embarrassing!) and he seemed to be thrilled about the upcoming concert.
We swooned back to the hotel and were faced with the most dreaded aspect of travelling: packing. But at least not for the last time, at least there would be one more day filled with friends, fans and Michael before we had to head back home. This thought kept us going. And we even woke up before our alarm clock. The countdown began: The bunnies on their way to West Wycombe.