Due to the indisposition of...
~ JustBall.Net goes Hairspray AGAIN~
We now have January, Hairspray started in October and this will already be our third trip to see the show (gives you an idea of how much we really enjoy the show, doesn't it? LOL). One of those was not really planned beforehand though.
As you know, we are usually prone to suffer from travel disasters every now and then. Two weeks before we were supposed to take off, it seemed this trip would not be any different. For more than half a year we keep having train strikes in Germany, because the engine drivers wanted to earn more money. Already one of our recent trips was affected by a strike, which was announced just one day before we were bound to leave the country. This time, they were a bit nicer and already announced an infinite strike that was supposed to start the day before our head off. And just a couple of hours later I learned about the strikes the British airport personnel had planned for the same time. Luckily both strikes were called off shortly before our trip. YAY! So what else went wrong? Nothing! Everything went smoothly and we got into our hotel in time, got tickets for the evening performance and got to the stage door. It is amazing how enjoyable travelling can be when everything goes according to plan!
We met a couple of friends at the stage door, among them our very own role-model Pam and lovely Joan. I have no idea how long we kept waiting for Michael, but time certainly flew until Michael finally walked down that street and we were treated to a jetlagged, but gorgeous looking Michael Ball, who told us about his holiday. He gave us a bit more insight into the ailments of Dermot Canavan (Male Authority Figure), who fell ill backstage the night before. Apparently he was fine until he suddenly started throwing up.
Talking about suffering cast members: Another person, whom we spoke to on arrival was Elinor Collett (lovely, gorgeous Penny Pingleton). She had been off for a while and we all thought she just might have been on a holiday. Turned out she has not only been ill, but had to go through some really scary surgery, she's a real trooper! We were all shocked as she looked completely fine and after that kind of surgery you'd expect people to be off sick for a REALLY long time. She is just amazing, that woman. And such a sweetheart, too.
As we had seen Michael go in, got a sweet hello and were generally happy as bunnies can be, we went back to the hotel to get changed. Our hotel was wonderful, but a 20 minutes walk away from the theatre and when you have to walk that distance at least six times a day, that can be a bit tiring after a while…
As we did have tube tickets, we thought it might be a brilliant idea, well Kerstin did, to not walk all of the way from the hotel, but simply take the tube. Okay it would only be one station, but still, better than walking all the way (again!). We certainly had had better ideas in our life. The tube train suddenly stopped in between the stations and would not go on. We were told that a train in front of us broke down and they would get us to the station as soon as possible. Whatever that might mean. AND we were on the late side already.
To quote Tracy “Phew, I thought we would not make it. Stupid bus (tube) crash.” Just like Tracy we were lucky. The train eventually did move again. As soon as we emerged out of the tube station we knew we were in trouble. We had a rough idea where High Holborn station was…but now it was dark outside and we didn't have the map with us (who needs a map? It's just five minutes away from the theatre!, we thought). We were running REALLY late and – as bunnies do in a panic - basically sprinted down the first street we could find. Finally we passed a really posh hotel and in desperation asked the page boys where the theatre was…yup, just was we had feared: right in the opposite direction. Oh how relaxing it was to take the tube instead of walking the distance! By now it was twenty past seven. Show starts at 7:30. Panting and in quite a state we finally took our seats at 7:31 pm, front row of the Upper Circle on the aisle.
If you can help it, don't take that seat on the aisle, for it does not only have a horizontal, but a vertical railing as well in front of it. This meant, without moving around Kerstin would not have seen much of the show. Merely a cross made from railings. Just to add: This night luckily half the front row seats were not sold, so we could easily move onto different seats. But the rest of the theatre was really full. This show is doing so well!
As we already knew the “Male Authority Figure” would be played by Adam Price (as well Edna's and Wilbur's walking cover). We met him at the stage door and he was really nice. Johnnie Fiori (Motormouth Maybelle) was off as well. Her part would be played by Sandra Marvin, who is absolutely terrific in the role. We already had seen her in the part the last time we had seen the show, as Johnnie was off sick then. Although we had been sceptical that anyone could play the part as well as Johnnie, Sandra proved how wrong we had been. She was absolutely fabulous and the only complaint we could have thought of, was: She could have been bigger. A complaint seldomly heard of in times of size zero!
The show itself keeps getting better and better each time we see it. Everything was just about perfect. Special mention here has to go to Ben James-Ellis (Link). Apparently he kept playing around with his part. When we saw the show in November, we were not impressed with some things he had changed. Not only had he reversed to his old self, but improved. The love story between Link and Tracy keeps blossoming. They are so sweet together.
As far as Edna goes, Michael made this part his own. He just is loveable, wonderful Mum Edna. You simply forget that this is Michael Ball playing a woman. You don't miss him, instead you can't help but fall in love with this wonderful and, yes, cute Edna. He really IS “the cutest chickie that we ever did see”!
No glitches, until we reached “I can hear the bells”
My father will smile
I can hear the bell
As he walks me down the aisle
Sings Tracy, imagining her wedding to gorgeous Link. But where was her father to walk her down the aisle?? The crying Mum was there (admittedly her shaking shoulders seemed to hide a chuckle rather then be shaken by massive sobs) only the loving father was missing. He was definitely nowhere on stage. Leanne carried on as if nothing had happened (no one noticed who hadn't seen the show before) and after some scared moments (we wondered just what might have happened backstage: is Mel ill, too?), Wilbur turned up. Finally! Michael told us afterwards, Mel had simply forgot completely that he was supposed to be on stage. LOL
Coming to curtain call, we realised something was wrong. When Seaweed, Penny and Link took their bow, Penny was missing. It turned out she was not feeling well during most of the show and couldn't come out for curtain call. They had a car coming to pick her up. Apparently it all was a bit much for her after her surgery.
We did not know then, we would not see her again during the remainder of the week. Elinor, take your time and be sure to take all the time needed to get well again. We need you up there but health comes first, of course.
When he got out, Michael seemed all worried and made sure Elinor had a car to take her home. Bless him.
Wednesday was rather uneventful until we got to the stage door. We were done with all our plans for that day and decided to go to the stage door, knowing it would still be quite some time until Michael would arrive. So we thought and still believed, when Andrew approached, telling us “Michael will be here in a sec.” Yeah, well okay, ten minutes it is then, we think, turning around, seeing Michael walking down the street! Just like that. We hadn't arrived properly and there he was. In Shock we called “You are early!” up the street. He laughed and replied “YOU are early!” “Yes, well, that's because we are pathetic and obsessed…”, we shouted back. A very dirty laugh from him. “That's right!”, more laughter. Imagine all this being more or less shouted up and down Grape Street…He let us sniff a gorgeous perfumed candle he brought with him (John Galliano). We chatted a bit (he actually said now that we were all so early, we were free to “go and play in Covent Garden”…we wish! No money left to spend and no time really since we had to get back to the hotel and get changed. But we showed him our big Hamleys bag and said we had been playing before teehee.) and when he went in, we realised that in our shock, we had forgotten all about the pressies we brought for him! Scandalous...shame on us.
We had wonderful seats for this performance and enjoyed the cast up close (very close). Everyone was fabulous, so we were quite shocked, when suddenly an announcement was made. “Due to the indisposition of Leanne Jones the role of Tracy Turnblad will now be played by Charlotte Riby.” (during our trip we learned to fear that announcement. You always sit there with bated breath wishing and hoping NOT to hear the name Michael Ball...for once in our lifetime LOL) We have seen Charlotte before and we like her portrayal, but we simply love Leanne. After the show we asked Michael what was wrong with her and if she would be back soon. He said she was suffering from a migraine attack. As someone who is used to migraine I still wonder how she managed to pull through the first half. She was not back the next day.
On Thursday we met with our friend Angela and had a little late-Christmas-pressie-exchange at the stage door. Buying the present for her little son gave us the opportunity to spend MUCH time in Hamleys (as mentioned before). We urge everyone who visits London to have a look at that shop. Toys galore on several floors…paradise! Anyways, we had a great time chatting with everyone until Michael arrived. He signed whatever was there to sign, posed for photos and was in a good mood. That afternoon we also took a photo of Ben when he signed away, seeing there were no young girls there to surround him eagerly. We wouldn't dream of taking any of their time from him. Stage door newbies…so cute. He is really lovely, and asked whether we'd be in AGAIN. LOL Yup. Usual seats.
You know you have seen a show (too?) often, when people who work at the theatre (and not only on stage) start greeting you, know your seats, and you know all their faces and sometimes even names…and the time they usually arrive for work… But seeing there is no such thing as too often with Hairspray we didn't even begin to feel guilty about that. We quite enjoy saying hello to the cast and everyone involved really, as they all do such a wonderful job. But I digress. Back to business.
So, this time we were sitting a bit further into the row and it's quite amazing what a difference a few inches make! Almost like a different show! But we will nevertheless stick to our standard seats in the future, we think. But we came across a phenomenon that is equally fascinating as it is annoying: people who sing along every line of the entire musical! Several times now we sat near some enthusiasts who are either so absorbed they do not realize what they do or do not hear their own voices over the speakers. There simply is no other explanation as to why someone who pays to see and hear professionals sing would join in. Sometimes REALLY loud. It happens at concerts, too, of course. We will never understand that….
That day Leanne was still off and Elinor was still off and we are not entirely sure whether it was then that Rachel Wooding (Amber) was off as well or from Friday on. Sorry about that. Anyways, when she was off, we did miss her dearly, simply because she is “our” Amber. Her understudy did an amazing job though. How do they do it? You wouldn't know for a second that they usually played someone entirely different.
We saw him after the matinee as he signed programmes etc. but didn't speak to him, just taking pictures and filming (perfect opportunity). We couldn't stay long for we had another show booked for the evening and no, it was not Hairspray (for once). We had booked to the Phantom of the Opera. Seeing Michael was in it we wanted to fit all the photos we had seen from him as Raoul into the proper context. Kerstin had already seen the show years ago in Germany…but seeing in was in German (here they translate absolutely everything, it's quite annoying) and with German singers, seeing the “original” at last was bound to be quite different.
It felt utterly wrong to walk into a theatre that wasn't the Shaftesbury when we KNEW that only ten minutes away Michael would get ready to perform this very minute. It was also very weird to be seeing a whole different crowd. Not one face looked familiar. Very wrong indeed! The show itself was…well…different. We actually felt it was a bit long at places. The singers were all very good though. We just could have done with a little less Ballet and a little more plot. It was great to picture Michael wearing all these wonderful costumes though. And would you believe that in those two VERY different shows the exact same phrase is used at roughly the same time? “Shoot to kill” was the one. We almost gave in to a giggle fit but of course pulled ourselves together as in Phantom this actually IS a very grim moment whereas in Hairspray it is a sure laugh.
When it was finished, we did what we had to do: dash up to the Shaftesbury to see him leave. Yes, we know, this really is pathetic and obsessed but hey, he knows that we know that!
Seeing it was raining on a off the stage door wasn't too crowded. That was lucky for us for we had to dash back to the hotel to pack our bags! No, no we didn't fly home just yet, we simply had booked another (VERY NICE) hotel for our last few days to be in convenient walking distance and spoil ourselves a little. So we simply stood there and said good night and both Michael and Andrew asked “Tomorrow?” Oh definitely yes!
So on Friday after collecting our tickets, we moved hotels and busied ourselves in the most wonderful city on the planet. We did our usual stage door-nostalgia-walk for example, visiting (haunting?) all the London stage doors we knew by now and did some more shopping (bad, bad girls). Finally we ended up at the stage door and where the first to show up. Little did we know what kind of a wait this one would be…
The first hour passed rather unspectacularly and we simply nodded our hellos to cast and crew, chatted a bit, tried not to look at the watch etc. Fans came and left in the following hours. Some actually gave up after a while. Funny thing was that one of the cast kept going in and out and whenever he turned up again, we were still standing there at the very same spot. After four of these encounters we all started laughing. Now we were used to Michael arriving roughly at 5:30 pm. When it got to 6 and still no sign of him when all of the cast (except Mel) were already in, we started to get mildly worried. At 6:30 we knew there was no way we could get to the hotel to change and back again in time. We couldn't leave the stage door now, for we actually started to worry whether or not he would be performing! So we waited some more. We were joined by a sweet young lady and her divine Chihuahua Luca and she knew people inside and asked whether Michael had called in sick. Nope, he hadn't. We even saw Mel Smith arrive! We knew now why we never saw him go in before: because he arrived really, really late!
You cannot imagine the emotional roller coaster ride we went through…you start wondering whether anything had happened on the way to the theatre, whether he was ill, whether we had blinked a second too long and simply missed him go in (yes, well, we were panicky and you do become a bit unreasonable then!). You know at six o'clock that the wait is hardly worth it, because he will be in SUCH a hurry he will only dash inside…by 6:30 you are far beyond these bitter thoughts and get accustomed to the fact that yes, you will indeed see the show in your everyday clothes.
We were happy we always carried our tickets with us, now there'd have been no time to go and collect them from the hotel room. When the three of us (and Luca) had agreed we'd be really mortified if he was unwell but still would rather know if he'd be in the show or not, rather than having to wait until Edna's first appearance on stage to find out, suddenly someone touched our backs and we heard a VERY familiar voice say (with a grin!) “I had you all worried now, hadn't I?” “YES YOU HAD!” came our response rather more heated than was intended. He looked dashing, all right. Light coat, all smiles, cuddling Luca on his way inside (telling him he belonged into “Legally Blonde”). It was SUCH a relief to see him, all dimples (and yes, in SUCH a hurry). He had arrived running around the front, so all those hours we had been looking up the wrong end of the street…. Ah well, at least he'd be in the show. That must have been a record though. He had arrived at 6:47 pm.
The show was wonderful as ever (although if feels a lot better when you are poshed-up a little, we can tell you!). And seeing him as Edna always makes up for aching feet and a few more grey hairs from worrying for hours at a windy stage door.
The stage door afterwards was rather busy. That was such a shame as we by now had our pressies for him with us but we'd need to talk him through them, as some of it was labelled in German. Seeing there were so many eager theatregoers there, we decided to step back to let them have their moment. We'd be back (there is no counting on Saturdays to be quiet, they never are). When he spotted us we asked what had happened earlier! He told us he had been to see Jonathan Pryce. To our utter surprise we managed a proper conversation, as he took us aside form the crowd a bit and we told him we'd have an anniversary tomorrow: our 100 th time of seeing him on stage. He was impressed (well, not in they way, he'd properly be of we told him we won the Noble Price, but you know what he's like, he was very sweet about it). He told us he had the worst back ever. Poor thing. Little did we know just HOW bad it really was. We were soon to find out. For now though we got a hug and a kiss and were generally all reconciled about the afternoon wait.
Saturday at the stage door we were a bit early (do we ever learn?). Most of the others arrived a little while later. As we had expected it was rather busy and when he arrived (at roughly 1:20) some fans actually walked up the street to meet him there instead of letting him walk down to us all. We waited near the door. He was ever so patient, signed stuff, posed for photos etc. When he got to us he smiled and actually wished us “Happy 100 th !” Almost making us faint. He remembered! We had forgotten all about it when we saw him (usual symptom: Michael right in front of you = forgetting everything you had in your mind before you saw him up close). We thanked him and actually opened our jackets: “See, we are already all poshed-up in case you'd be VERY late again!” He laughed a lot. We were determined not to ever sit through a theatre performance in everyday clothes! So we had changed right after breakfast.
This time we had tickets for both shows and all went smoothly until right before the interval finished there came the dreaded announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, due to the indisposition of…” Our hearts sank. “Natalie Best the role of Little Inez will be played by Jacqui Zvimba ”. PHEW! Still, we missed Natalie and tried to work out how many understudies were now on stage...and failed.
When we all waited after the matinee Andrew got out after a while and said Michael was too unwell to come out between shows. His back was very bad. He might actually leave through another door at night because he was really feeling very poorly. A lot of people hadn't heard that and needed quite some convincing before they gave up. When Leanne got out everyone asked her about Michael and she said he was determined to do the evening show. We were worried. It had to be really bad. Some “fans” didn't believe a word of it and said he simply wanted to avoid his fans who made him what he is today blah blah blah. Well, needless to say we told them about him usually coming out after the shows and that he had had problems for a while now.
We were torn. On the one hand it would have been horrible to have our last night there without him on stage, on the other hand his health comes first of course and it probably would have been better if he simply cancelled and saw a doctor instead. It was a bit scary until Edna's first entrance. It was Michael and even though we KNEW he was feeling really badly, you couldn't tell. Not one movement was different, he was spot on as ever. We couldn't believe it. Even when you actively searched for hints that he was unwell, you couldn't find any. This man is amazing…he'd never give less than 100 %. We were quite in awe.
The evening show was an absolute triumph. As always, the Saturday audience went completely wild.
Back at the stage door began an uneasy wait in the pouring rain. We knew, well, we actually hoped for him, that Michael would leave through another door. It was quite busy outside despite the weather. But we wanted to say goodbye to Andrew who is always so patient with us.
We saw his car waiting there. The driver had apparently told some early fans that he was indeed driving Mr Michael Ball and he waited next to the stage door like we did (with a huge umbrella). Andrew came to talk to him and we were told that Michael was too unwell to leave through the stage door (as we had expected). Then his car was moved, up the street and around the back of the building. We couldn't believe our eyes when a rather large group of “fans” actually started running after the car in hot pursuit! Honestly, he is SO giving with his time, always so generous with all our fan-needs. What a poor way to repay him. The lack of respect of some people is unbelievable. The few of us who stayed behind agreed that this is uncalled for. How come some do not understand that he is a human being and not at their service 24/7? Wasn't it enough he didn't cancel the evening performance?
Outraged the rest of us waited for Andrew. When the door opened again we saw Andrew but with him was Michael's dad Tony who was his usual charming self. He said Michael was so sorry he couldn't come and see us all and we'd have to make do with him. There were only a few of us left and we certainly didn't mind spending a few minutes with wonderful Mr Ball senior. Tony even obliged and posed for photos. We asked him how Michael did that, perform in pain and no one would notice. He said he has absolutely no idea. They were as impressed by his determination as we were. It was a delightful chat and when he went back inside as it was pouring, we got engaged in conversation with fans we had never met before but were so kind to share their umbrella with us. You know what it's like, you start talking Michael and time flies. Suddenly the door opened again and Tony - together with his gorgeous wife Jan - came out to find their car. He said his goodbyes and Jan complained that she had no idea we were there or she would have said hello and gave us a hug and a kiss. Amazing those Balls…we would never have thought she'd even remember who we are (we have met and talked to both on several occasions but that was at the last tour!). We waved them goodbye and resumed our conversation with the other fans.
Finally Andrew came out of the theatre and stood on the other side of the street talking with the Shaftesbury's stage manager. We seized our chance, made an excuse to our fellow fans and dashed over to say goodbye. We got introduced and what was intended to be a one minute conversation turned out to last quite a while indeed. We had so much fun! It really was the best Michael stage door without Michael we ever had!!
On quite a high we floated back to the hotel and only then the harsh reality hit us: we were going home the next day. That was it. We have had our 100 th time Michael on stage (actually even the 101 st time), we had by now seen Hairspray 12 times and STILL do not have enough, we had met so many wonderful people and we have to admit, even before we were on our way to the airport the next day, we had already started making plans for the next trip.
Everybody at the Shaftesbury: Brace yourselves! We will be back!