We had planned it all neatly. We'd be arriving at Heathrow airport at around 9 pm, collect our bags, get the car and then drive into London for the stage door to see Michael leave. To our utter amazement all went according to plan for once, no cancelled flights, no railway strikes, no traffic jams, the planes left on time. All went swimmingly….until…Yes, you guessed it. The bunnies never travel without SOMETHING going wrong. This time they had Bunny Kerstin trapped inside her plane for over an hour because the airport didn't have enough coached to bring the passengers to the terminal building. This resulted in several people missing their connection flights to Sydney or Singapore. So we only missed the stage door and considered ourselves quite lucky in comparison.
13/07/07 - Friday
The original plan had been to see Kismet on Saturday only, as it was the last day of its run. But since we enjoyed it so much on our last trip, we headed straight to the box office on Friday noon and asked for day seats. Wonderful things, these. Only cost 15 £ and you still had a wonderful view of the entire stage from up in the balcony. We hadn't seen Kismet from up close yet and were very much looking forward to our row C tickets for the very last two performances. But for the time being we were very happy bunnies and dashed to the next box office to buy tickets for the fifth Harry Potter movie. We were so keen to see it in the English version rather than the German one. That film's amazing. The best by far in our humble opinion. We were still on a high when we arrived at the stage door.
We knew by now that Michael would arrive quite late in the afternoon. This was not a problem, as we had a lovely hotel just around the corner, so needn't worry about getting changed in time. We met many of our friends and chatted happily away until he arrived. He looked utterly stunning, as usual. We still couldn't believe how very becoming this beard was in the flesh. Seeing he would have to shave it off for Hairspray and that it would probably be mayhem on Saturday, we were determined to ask for a photo with the bearded Michael Ball. Our friend Sharon had agreed to take it for us and Michael kindly obliged to pose. We were over the moon as you can imagine. Here's the result.
The crowd had grown considerably since we last were there but that was to be expected. It was such a joy to meet Bev and Hillary from Australia again. Ladies, you've GOT to win the lottery and come over for Hairspray! This is an order.
When Michael was inside the four of us went round to the front of the ENO as our friends whished to check something about their tickets. We passed a few of the ENO's singers who laughed and asked whether Michael was in already. This led to a little chat with one of them about what we like so much about him and how amazed they all were to see the fans at the stage door everyday. They were quite impressed that Michael took the time to stop for us even when it was pouring with rain and we gushed a bit about liking his voice first and then having been taken with his personality etc. etc. you know what we mean. We got some insider's views on the production and it's flaws and also about how it was like for the opera company to be working in a musical production. It was all very interesting and we had so much fun. We decided to give the kind man a proper fan crowd feeling and Bev let him sign her programme. We promised to be cheering for him extra loud this evening.
After we all went our separate ways to get ready for the evening, we got ourselves something to drink (we had a fridge!) and went back to the hotel to get change. And you know…we lived just four minutes from the ENO but still managed to be so late that we had to almost run to get there in time. We couldn't believe ourselves! Panting we resumed our seats and were happy to see that the place was rather crowded (we asked at the box office earlier, they said it has been slower than usual, but not too bad plus were VERY confused as to why the last matinee was SO busy…we could have told them…) and as far as we could see from up above, no one left during the show or interval. The atmosphere was great! People laughed and applauded. The show went smoothly. Michael was in great form as usual and we loved every minute of it.
The tunes still ringing in our heads we went outside afterwards and took our place on the pavement. He didn't take much time to come out and say good night to us all. Once Michael was gone we spotted our friendly singer and told him we cheered extra loud as promised which got us a big grin.
All in all it was a wonderful evening and we had so much fun. But already the sad truth started to sink in: Tomorrow was to be our last day of Kismet. And then it would be another three months at least until we would be back. So some sighs mingled into the usual high that you are left with after the rush of a good show and a nice stage door.
14/07/07 – Saturday
After a quick walk around our favourite places in the vicinity of the venue we decided to be early-ish for the matinee as we were sure there would be plenty of fans on this special day. We were ever so right. The ENO stage door had been wonderful for us. A crowd always, yes, but one that was easy to handle. Not too many people, not too few (the thought of one day finding ourselves alone with Michael at a stage door still is rather frightening) and even at his birthday the crowd was doable. But this….the poor ENO staff. They had just gotten used to the two dozen or so women lingering where they wanted to had a cigarette in private. But on this day there were the masses. Standing on both sides of the street the crowd grew by the minute. We were amazed to say the least. At this point we were ever so relieved to have asked for out photo the day before. There would be no coming close today.
Our friend Angela joined us after a few minutes and by then we knew we had a mission. She has had her (gorgeous) son since she last managed to get to a stage door and was determined to show Michael a picture of him. Also we wanted her to have her photo taken. She has been around since Aspects and only has a handful…and she really ought to have one with him and the beard. We were quite determined. When we arrived he didn't get out of the car on the bottom of the street and walk up as usual but was driven right up to the stage door. Quite sensible as otherwise he'd have needed hours to get in! Luckily we were standing at not too far away from the narrow way that would be his route into the theatre. He looked fab and spoiled us to quite a lot of chest….mmmh…He recognised Angela of course and was ever so delighted to finally see pictures of her son. Naturally he posed for the photo with her and was all chatty. It all was over far too quick but what can you do.
The three of us went back to our hotel, changed and managed to be in time for the matinee. For the first time ever we sat in the stalls. Row C, dead centre. We could not believe how close the stage was, how big the Coliseum looked from down there and how familiar almost every face in the stalls was. We swear it was like a last night of a tour or a fan club event! The atmosphere was vibrant and we all hoped for some unusual things to happen during this last matinee as is tradition in theatre.
We needed some time to adjust to the closeness of it all. It was a totally different show. Being able to actually see all the faces for the first time properly we recognised ever so much more people who walked past us at the stage door and found out what roles they sung.
Oh and how wonderful it all was with an audience so open and positive. It was contagious to those on stage, we all had so much fun, it was hilarious. Mind you, there were no real changes, everyone behaved at the ENO. But still it was a different show. Performing is a matter of give and take, and when given SUCH a positive reception, everyone up there gave ever so much more than their usual 100 %. It was fantastic. The show flew by even though we were now seeing it for the fourth time. And Michael's eyes…we know you know they are blue…but from sitting so close…they seemed ever so much more blue…swoon… And to see his face while he was taking over the whole stage was priceless. He owned this part and it was such a joy to watch….and to envy all those lucky women kissed by the Poet…oh to be a singer and be good enough to be on the same stage with the man….sigh….
When it was over we were all up on cloud nine and it felt so good that those people up there had been given the reception they deserved for working so hard to make this production ever so enjoyable even when they had so many problems.
We have heard that Michael, during Kismet, did something he hadn't been known to have done before: he came out between shows to meet the fans. We were not sure whether this might have been a one off but took the chance and walked around the venue to find out. And there he already was, signing programmes, posing for photos and chatting to everyone. That's the benefit of a show that doesn't need much costumes or make up (compared to Women in White for example). It was great to see him again and when he got back inside we still had time enough to have some food, phone home, gush and get changed (again).
We had almost identical seats for the evening and had a great time in great company, as we knew everyone around us again. Like a family outing…such fun! We were all determined to make some noise as this was the final performance after all and we were there to make him proud. Lots of talk between the fans before the show stared, making sure we were all on the same mission: to make this night unforgettable for Michael and everyone else up there.
He got the entrance applause he deserved. He even had to stop for a second to acknowledge it in full. And then the fun began. There was a lot of ad-libbing going on (but nothing like Chitty, of course, just the odd sentence here and there) and you know that Michael has this big harem scene with about a dozen women only there to please him. Well, he was to milk it for what it's worth, wasn't he? You do not have the chance to have a whole harem to yourself every often, do you? And so we watched what clearly was a performance for those 15 years or older. The room temperature must have risen several degrees for all the snogging, touching and longing that went on before our shining eyes. When he usually would only tease or kiss Lalume (Faith Prince) he now licked her face. Yup, you read correctly. He licked her. Twice. And then she returned the compliment and licked him in turn. Further more she didn't just slide nearer to him when they both lay on her sofa, but she had his legs between hers and did glide up with pleasure to be on eye-level with him. They were quite equal in sharing naughtiness throughout the whole thing. We gasped for air…and probably would have needed a cold shower every now and then. But seeing there was none in reach we just sat, watched, enjoyed and sighed envious sighs.
It was a riot from beginning to end. At the curtain call the whole place was on their feet for Michael and we could see him mouth to the person next to him “Aren't they great?”. He seemed genuinely touched and we stopped counting the times they all came forward to receive another round of applause. We were so happy to have been part of it all. It was a special night. And we all felt we done him proud, which was most important to most of us, we think.
When he got out afterwards he thanked us all for being an amazing audience. And we all thanked him for being…well…him, basically. We were all still so excited and couldn't quite believe it was all over now. But he was gone and the street started to empty considerably. But not as fast as it usual. Lots of people still said their good byes to those having come from far away. We even managed a short conversation with fans from Norway, Korea, Australia, America and well, Germany. What an international bunch we were. When we had seen all our friends off we spotted the friendly singer stand outside the pub nearby and said good bye to him as well. We didn't want to interrupt as he was standing there with his colleagues but it would have felt rude to just leave without a word.
Hum yes, and what can we say. We chatted for well over an hour about the ENO, about Kismet, about the troubled production process, about Michael of course, about Lesley Garrett, about…about an awful lot. His name is Peter and we promised to let him know when we'd be next in town. And he made us promise not to only go and see Hairspray but also watch their production of Carmen. We agreed, of course! It was the most interesting conversation and we actually only parted because he had a plane to catch the next morning and we had to re-locate our car or it would be clamped.
But this was a great way of saying good bye to the ENO, we learned so much about it and everyone standing there was so friendly. We even did the fan crowd thing for Peter, gave him some screams (we are good at those) and posed for a photo etc. It was such a laugh.
It is with very fond memories that we left this narrow street behind the most beautiful theatre in the West End. But we promise to return, hopefully in October! What a journey this was. How we will miss it.