YOU CAN'T STOP THE BEAT!
~ JustBall.Net goes Hairspray~
The day before our flights were to leave Germany for our first (of hopefully many!) Hairspray adventures, the news got out that there would be a nationwide train strike on and bunny Kerstin had no idea how to get to her airport. Panic ensued. That was just soooo typical. Never an easy journey those few hundred miles to England. All week it was promised there'd be no strikes…yeah right. But luckily her brother volunteered to drive her all the way to the airport (120 minutes drive) before he had to be at work. That meant QUITE an early start for poor Kerstin, but we are used to being very tired in England. It never stopped us from having the time of our lives.
After all the reviews from friends we were dying to see the show at last.
Confession time: we refused to watch any of the movies (John Travolta...not our cup to tea exactly) and were not TOO keen on the music that was once played at the Dress Circle (a shop dedicated to musical theatre) when we were there for a browse during Kismet. So it is only honest to say, we were not that enthusiastic about the whole thing. I mean, okay, so Michael would be brilliant of course and we couldn't wait to see him in a dress, but the rest of the show? We were very unsure. Then again everybody was raving and raving, so we were really curious to see for ourselves. We had not seen the Kismet movie either and it seemed this was good for us because we had no expectations at all and those who saw it felt theirs were not met. So we decided to try this approach again and go there with an open mind (well, apart from the “not being too keen on the music bits we have heard “ – thing).
To our utter amazement the flights itself, the journey to London and even the checking in into the hotel went smoothly. No glitch, no waiting around, no having to wait to be allowed to enter our room 8we were quite early and expected to just leave our luggage at the concierge). We have never ever experienced a happier or easier journey. And that's two flights, for we travel to London from different cities in Germany. Okay, so we were a teeny weeny bit scared of the outward journey, but who wants to think of flying home when one has just arrived at the most beautiful city on the planet (we are London fans, would you have guessed?)!
The hotel was only a 5 minutes walk away from the Shaftesbury theatre. The original plan was to just have a quick peek at the stage door and then collect our tickets. When we arrived though we saw a small group of fans and decided to better take our spot an the pavement and say hello to everyone Especially as we saw Kim again, who was with us at this most glorious stage door at he ENO when Michael arrived and we were only six fans waiting. She is now our lucky charm! LOL It was Thursday, a matinee day, so we hoped he'd be early. And he was. Twenty past one we saw a posh silver car stop in narrow Grape Street. At least we had checked out the stage door in June, or we would have been shocked at how narrow and dark it is. There are only two VERY smalls strips of pavement on either side of a single lane street which is reserved for diplomats' cars to park there. So whenever a car uses this street as a short cut, fans have to jump back onto the pavement and cuddle up a bit to make sure they are not run over. Actually we did get a little scared picturing Michael's last night (or the opening Night). We remember vividly who we all blocked a four lane street and very wide stage door area on that night of the 19 th of July in 2003. There were hundreds and hundreds of fans…it doesn't bear thinking what will happen after Haispray…
But it has only just started its run and as our role-model Pam keeps reminding us: we haven't lost a fan yet. So all will be well. But please do keep this in mind when you want to go stage door-ing. Sometimes one tends to be a little bit ignorant of minor dangers like through traffic when Michael arrives.
So there he was in a gorgeous (and soft) grey coat and very light jumper in dark jeans. Before he had arrived there was animated talk about his earlier appearance on GMTV and everyone was sure he wore leather trousers and no one could remember what he had sung! All were a bit distracted by his leg-wear. What a laugh! When he arrived someone actually had the courage to ask what it was he sang and he confirmed the title everyone had more or less agreed on before. He also made clear those weren't leather trousers but new jeans and they merely looked a little wax- on screen. Now there's a bit of fascinating conversation with the biggest star of the West End today! We had such a laugh.
But before anyone could ask him anything, what happened was, that Michael jumped out of his car, smiled at us all apologetically and said (we couldn't believe it!): “I'm bursting for a pee, would you mind if I just went inside and then come back out again?” Stunned and chuckling we just about granted him this (urgent) wish. We couldn't stop giggling until he got out again (really quickly!). It will be better to spare you from the conversation we had with fellow fans while waiting, suffice to say, some blushed and we all had a bit of an immaturity flash. But before it could get any worse than that, he reappeared and graciously took quite a lot of his time for us all.
We had a little argument going with him, remarking that he has lost weight and he insisted he hadn't. We finally settled for he definitely looked it!
The crowd was small and he was in good spirits and in no hurry. We said our hellos and just enjoyed being back, doing what we love. The thing is, with the stage door itself being very small, too it got fairly difficult for the other actors arriving to get through our little gathering into the theatre. You see, attention usually isn't focussed on people arriving from behind you when Michael is standing just in front of you, but whenever he spotted someone trying to get in, he told the “masses” to part, which they dutifully did, of course. Everyone seemed rather amused by the spectacle. At least they all smiled and seemed relaxed. Quite unlike stage door-ing at the ENO where they simply were not expecting anything quite like this. When one of the actors arrived with his family (wife and two small children) Michael was delighted and talked a bit with the little ones. Their father (Paul Manuel , “Corny Collins”) informed them that Michael was even a little bit more famous than he himself. LOL
When everyone had their photo taken, their programme signed and there were no further requests, Michael went inside and we collected our tickets. These first two shows we were booked in the upper circle (cheap and you get a good idea what is happening where on stage, this was rather helpful in Kismet). We barely had time for dinner and to get changed and then it already was Hairspray time:
Welcome to the 60s!
The set is just so clever ands over colourful! Oooh and the costumes! To die for. All those cute shoes (it's amazing they can dance and jump about in those heels!), bright dresses….if you like the fashion of the 60s, this is pure perfection to look at. We swooned from the first second on. Wonderful music, you feel transported into Baltimore in 1962..or the way that it should have been anyways. Eye candy!!
Hairspray tells the story of Tracy Turnblad's dream to be a dancer on the most popular teenage TV show these days (Ready, Steady, Go! in America if you like, only that there were no famous singers, but merely the most trendy and beautiful kids of the area dancing to chart music). Tracy being a big girl is merely laughed at by the stick insect dancers, falls in love with the heartthrob Link Larkin (who dances and sings on the show) and decides to not only make it into the show despite her weight, but also to stop segregation. She makes friends with a group of fantastic black singers and dancers and scares the hell out of the evil and very white producer of the show. In all that she is supported by her loving parents. (And they have to put up with her daughter ending up in jail, being a fugitive, gate crashing a national TV show and starting a revolution…quite a whirlwind, she is.).
It's jut such a riot! The dancing is superb and the singing…well, we sat their with massive goosebumbs throughout the entire show, because it is so awe inspiring. We never ever saw and heard so much talent on one stage. AND all songs have the magic ability to stay with you after the show is long finished. We still (several days after having returned home!) hear each and every single song “played” inside our heads. You have to go and see it!! It must be the best show in town. Surely the most enjoyable. We laughed for two hours non-stop. Okay, most of the time we simply stared open mouthed and couldn't believe the quality of this production. Where do they find ALL those amazing talents? There is not one of the entire cast that is merely okay or good, they are all excellent. Literally.
Hum, this doesn't do justice to what this show really is like. I could swear that even when you are going through a very dark patch in your life and then go and see Hairspray, that you will leave the theatre with a massive grin on your face. You cannot help it. This musical just rocks! This we have told the MD who is enjoying the show as much as the audience by the looks of it and with whom we had a little chat the other night. He said they quite agree with that assessment.
Sufficient to say that we felt withdrawal the minute we left the theatre and will almost certainly not be able to wait until January (original plan) to see it again. We will find a way. And soon. We are quite desperate!
After having seen it for the first time we went outside on to the bright street in a daze(no, on a complete adrenalin high which led to dancing and singing on the way out…but this would have sounded quite undignified, so we will stick with “in a daze”, ahem). It was a matinee and we had forgotten about it being still light outside. We decided to wander around the theatre to cool ourselves down a bit before we would spend the rest of the waiting time in Covent Garden. And then we saw that MASSIVE crowd at the stage door and stopped. Mainly because there was no way to go, everywhere was full. We eventually did spot some Michael fans and to our utter amazement he really did step out of the stage door soon after that and signed away on programmes. This was piece work. We felt like phoning the Guinness book of Records. We had seen a lot before, but never something quite like this. He signed in record speed (and the autographs still were perfectly readable) and was in a very good mood. Someone said they had the best show in the West End, and he said he quite agrees. He took a few minutes and when he finally got back into the theatre we stared at the spot from where he just left and then at each other and couldn't believe it. He never got out between shows before. This had only started during Kismet. A wonderful new habit though! Mind you, the street was effectively blocked by half the audience piling up on the pavement. This was not Michael Ball crowd. This was half the audience wanting to thank the amazing cast as a whole.
We could hardly wait until the next show started. Would it be the same? Would the impact be less forceful? Would it now start to be a bit boring? NOPE! Still quite the same. Better if at all possible. We now KNEW what was coming and how good it would be. We already regretted not having booked anything for the Friday (we had a date with the ENO that night).
This is why, when back at the stage door after the show, the first question we asked Michael was: will there be a cast recording, PLEASE?! He said he has no real say about that but he'd REALLY love to have one. So now it's hoping and praying that they do as Edna commands!
We will let you in on a secret. We shared this with Michael when he got out after the show and he seemed quite amused. Actually we pondered long and hard whether to admit that to a wider public or not, but there you go: When he makes his first entry onto the stage, we did not recognise him! Not at all. Zilch, nothing, nada. We HEARD him alright. We knew he must be somewhere on the right-hand side. We decided he must still be in the wings!! And then, suddenly, it hit us: we was there, right on the middle of the stage, before our very eyes, and we had not made him out! You know, he is in a costume not at all flamboyant as the one from the promo photo shoot. And he just IS Edna. The whole body language is different, with his wig and accent…we just didn't spot him as Michael. This is so different from all other productions we have seen him in. You always find Michael in whichever character he portrays. Not here, no you don't.
But please keep in mind (lining up our defence here) that we sat in the upper circle(or balcony or whatever it is called…the circle above the circle, if you get my drift). From the stalls (especially the front stalls) he is instantly recognisable, of course. For the keen spectator (as his fans would be), that is. We had such fun watching various audience members opening the programme on the page with Michael's photo and bio and then pointing incredulously from his head shot to the picture of Edna on the other page. Repeating sentences like: “THIS is Michael Ball?” “Isn't Edna a female name?” “Are you sure he is in this show?”
You don't have to be a clairvoyant to predict this show will be a massive hit. There is simply no other way. Quality will always (or almost always) prevail. You have to be a particular Grumpy Smurf to not like this show or feel your spirits rise with every sung line or danced sequence. It is fast, colourful, romantic, funny, moving, hilarious and down right fabulous.
We know it's not the thing to do to write all these things before press night…but it being a rave we hope we do not get sued. We are still wondering how they all find the stamina and energy to do this show twice on Thursdays and Saturdays. It is a non-stop dance number!
Apart from the adorable Turnblad family (Leanne is amazing, Michael is such a loving mother and Mel Smith just ever so cuddly), we have to mention Johnnie Fiori as Motormouth Maybell who simply blew us away, Adrien Hansel as Seaweed J Stubbs and Elinor Collett as Penny Pingleton (the secret star of the show….next to Edna of course). Not to forget Ben James-Ellis (who realldy does take a lot of his time at stage doors) as Link Larkin.
We managed some conversation with Michael and Andrew when he got out after the show and were proud of ourselves for that. Usually we just stand and stare (and take a million photos, plus video). Thinking back this Thursday night was maybe the most remarkable stage door experiences we ever had…it resulted in some late night phone calls home and gushing onto answering machines anyways.
On Friday morning we already debated how and when we will be able to sneak in another little trip to the Shaftesbury at the end of the year. We actually went to the stage door (and thank god we did or we would have missed some of our dearest friends waiting there for him! You know who you are, feel hugged please!), albeit briefly. Andrew announced Michael would be late and we had another “date” at the ENO. So we just chatted a bit and then went to meet up with our friend Peter (who is a tenor) and saw Carmen (very…unusual…staging).
We had a wonderful evening though. Lots of Kismet and opera talk (make that gossip) in the pub afterwards.
But you don't care about our other London adventures, do you? So let's get back to Michael.
On Saturday the decision was made (well actually on Friday night): we need day tickets! We want to be in that front row. Seeing we already had 60 £ tickets for the matinee (yup, we gave in after the first time we saw the show and went for the very posh seats…only two pairs were left to be sold!!), we wanted the last evening show for us to be spectacular. But this involves getting up after only VERY few hours of sleep and queuing REALLY early on a freezing Saturday morning. We were really lucky with the weather though. Bright sunshine and you could wear a t-shirt under your jacket without freezing to death. We were prepared for a really long boring wait but instead got talking to Kim (another Kim), who is a great musical fan and hadn't seen the show before. We chatted about this and that and finally her son Gary joined us, who is training to become a musical actor in London. So of course we did some Michael talk (mainly inspired through the fact that while we stood there, at least four people passing stopped dead in their tracks, stared at the promo poster of Michael as Edna, took a closer look, marvelled at the name above it and then walked on, intrigued). We had such a great time together and time just flew by! They got themselves tickets for the matinee and we got ours for the evening.
The pre-matinee stage door was busy but doable. Bunny Julia managed to ask him why he has re-recorded This Guy's in Love With You on the new album and he replied that he felt he didn't quite get it right the first time…or rather, that he felt he could do even better and so he had another go. That left us quite curious on the new album.
And the third time was just as much fun as the first two had been. Only we were now much closer to the action. And the audiences were wonderful all the way through. Please do not sit there and hold back, this works best when you cheer, laugh and clap as best you can (seeing you get encouraged by the cast and MD you really do not need us giving you this advise….). There always was a rousing standing ovation at the end and they even sing the last song again after the bows, so we can all join in the party. It really does feel like at a concert when it's party time!
At the stage door in between shows we met Gary and Kim again and Gary confessed to having cried watching it, as it was just SO good and he so much wanted to be up on that stage, too. It was very sweet and we made him stand his ground in the crowd, so he could get his programme signed. The crowd was fierce though…Saturday being much worse than Thursday naturally. We dreaded the evening crowd (and quite rightly so, honestly, a simply MB fan crowd is SO well-mannered compared to what this mob was!).
Anyways, we grabbed some food, got changed (living in a hotel just around the corner is SO convenient) and were back again, right in the middle of the action. Yes, it's true, you don't see people's feet BUT this whole experience was so worth it! You feel the draught when the cast do the jumps in their dance routines! This is the real thing! After a while our cheeks hurt from grinning! Occasionally we exchanged looks of utter amazement. We couldn't believe just HOW much we liked this show and how much we were going to miss it.
The crowd after the show was….frantic. You could hardly move, shoving, pushing, blocking views, stepping in front of people, you name it. We are used to quite fair and civil stage doors. This was mayhem. Only a few Michael fans were where we stood (near the door) and so we got a bit of a scare of the “theatre” crowd. When he finally got out we managed to say our good byes and make sure a mother with her two small children could have some space to have their photo taken, but boy, this was rough. At one point we were separated by the flow of people moving with him and Bunny Julia found herself in a shed made from programmes when trying to duck down and out. When THIS is an ordinary Saturday evening crowd we really DO fear for Michael's last night…brace yourselves everyone!
We rounded up the evening by having a short chat with Andrew after the gorgeous Mr Ball had left the building (well, back street, actually) and admitting to already thinking of coming back much sooner than January.
We floated back to our hotel, got changed and had a wonder around nightly London to say farewell properly. Our hearts heavy and our ears still ringing with all these wonderful tunes. We will be back, and soon. There is no other option really. We are seriously hooked. So if still in doubt: BUY TICKETS. You will not regret it, promised!!!
A massive thank you goes to everybody involved with making this show what it is.