4. Theatre MDing: what I’ve learned

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Prior to coming to uni, I didn’t really know what an MD was. I didn’t know that I’d maybe like to be one, and I certainly didn’t know that I’d go on to MD 8 shows during my three years of studying. So when I applied to be an AMD for my first show at uni (thank you, Drowsy Chaperone prod team of 2014/15), I still wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for. I’d like to think that I now know a fair bit about MDing (musical directing), so here goes:

MDing is not just one job. It is many jobs.

The title ‘MD’ means that you direct the music of the show. So you tell the cast what to sing and how to sing it, and tell the band what to play and how to play it. But there’s much more to the role than just bossing people around! Most MDs also act as rehearsal pianists before the band comes in, and the conductor for when the band are involved. This means that the MD has to carry out two completely different roles between rehearsals and shows, which is TERRIFYING. When I had to conduct a show earlier this year, I felt so thoroughly unprepared because while I knew the music inside out, I was so used to playing it on the piano, not conducting it for a 12 piece band! Other jobs include leading vocal warm ups, making cuts and adding repeats, and liaising with other prod team members. So onto the next one…

The cast recording will almost definitely not match up with the score. Sorry.

There is nothing worse than coming into a rehearsal (a bit underprepared, oops), and realising that the choreographer has worked very very hard to make up a dance to suit a certain song or dance break on a cast recording… which doesn’t match up with the score in front of you. I’ve since learned to comb through the score before rehearsals even begin, but this is such a laborious task, and even if discrepancies are spotted, the MD then has to explain how many bars are added/missing, and often disappoint the choreographer in the process. I’m aware that this makes it sound like choreographers are hard to work with – they’re not and I’ve worked with some wonderful choreographers! It’s just very annoying when this happens. Argh.

Vocal warm ups will become anthems… and sometimes they will have dance routines.

Every rehearsal starts with a vocal warm up (except one time when I forgot), and these vary from the technical scaley ones to the funny tongue twister ones. I’m not really sure where we get these warm ups from – I’m pretty sure they’re sort of spread around in little MD circles as we impart our knowledge onto one another! ANYWAY, one of my good MD friends at uni introduced a warm up called Ba Bey Bee Bo, which *somehow* got its own dance. (Note: the choreographer was not involved and no bars were added or cut).

During breaks, everyone will flock to the piano.

Now, I don’t really get this one. Picture the scene: we’ve been rehearsing for a few hours, and the director announces that it’s lunch time. The MD leaves the piano stool and BAM – 5 cast members are crowded around the keyboard, desperate to get their hands on it and play some choons. Sometimes this results in an awesome jam session, but sometimes it just results in everyone else leaving the room!

No one else really understands your job.

Whereas most people know what a director does and how they do it, and what a choreographer does and how they do it, not very many know how MDing works. This seems to create an air of suspicion around MDs themselves, and I enjoy this. Not only does one get a fair amount of street cred from being able to play the piano, sometimes people seem a bit mystified by the ability to read music. It’s good fun, and sometimes makes it easier to gloss over mistakes…!

So yes, there are a few things I’ve learned through MDing 8 different shows while at uni. I have certainly learned a lot, and that’s very much down to all the other fantastic MDs I’ve worked with while doing these shows (Becky, Joe, Gem, Andy, Izzi, Ben, Dave, Robbie <3). There’s always more to learn, and I definitely hope to do more MDing in the future, but I’ll always check whether the cast recording matches up with the score first. (Disclaimer: it probably won’t).

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Review – School of Rock – New London Theatre, 24/06/17

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Having adored the film growing up, and being a massive Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, I was extremely excited and intrigued to watch School of Rock (the musical) at the New London Theatre. As the show presented a rather different subject matter (and indeed musical style) for the composer to tackle, I was interested to see what he and the rest of the creative team had come up with. And amazingly, this production manages to tick all the boxes, while also striking the perfect balance between remaining loyal to the original subject matter and bringing something new to the story – a combination which many musical adaptations struggle to achieve.

Naturally, the first thing that springs to mind about School of Rock is the fact that a sizable portion of the cast is made up of child performers, some of whom have to be quadruple threats (meaning that they are equally talented at singing, acting, dancing and playing a musical instrument). Add on the fact that the lead actor playing Dewey Finn needs impeccable guitar skills as well, and this must be a tricky show to cast.

Stephen Leask portrayed Dewey Finn at this performance, and he is absolutely incredible. He inhabits the character so well, and he very much manages to make the role his own. His introductory song ‘When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock’ is energetic and brilliantly executed, introducing the audience to his lively, spontaneous character. I also enjoyed his interactions with the children, as well as with Ned (played by Oliver Jackson) and Rosalie Mullins (Florence Andrews).

Three teams of 13 children each perform a portion of the shows each week, and they are surely some of the most talented young people in the West End right now. I adore Caoimhe Judd’s performance as Summer – her characterisation is impeccable and hilarious, and she leads the act 2 opener ‘Time to Play’ with great conviction. Special mentions must also go to Jude Harper-Wrobel as Freddy, Jack Goodacre as Zack, James Lawson as Lawrence and Selma Hansen as Katie, who all perform on their respective rock instruments live at every performance. The children performed brilliantly as a unit too, with the song ‘If Only You Would Listen’ being a particular emotional highlight.

The rest of the cast give great performances too – Florence Andrews’ rendition of Miss Mullins’ heartfelt song ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’ is another musical moment to remember, and the ensemble do well to create contrasting environments of both a gaggle of posh, pushy parents, and a set of strict, education-loving teachers in the staffroom. The ‘grown up band’ must also be acknowledged for accompanying Lloyd Webber’s exciting score when the children are otherwise occupied. I absolutely adored watching the band members hanging over the edge of the suspended band ‘pit’ to encourage the children during ‘Teacher’s Pet’ – they had been made redundant by this point by the kids actually playing their rock instruments live!

One of the main things that makes School of Rock a brilliant piece of art independent of the film is the fact that the creative team have added other dimensions to the writing. In this musical adaptation the audience gets a much larger insight into the lives and thoughts of the children, and these are explored through both speech and song. So while School of Rock may draw audiences in through its name and association with the original material, it allows everyone to leave with a slightly different perspective on the story and characters.

School of Rock is one of the most exciting, energetic and innovative pieces of theatre in the West End right now. Despite some reservations from the public and the media, Lloyd Webber has written a score which totally delivers, providing classic rock tunes as well as emotional ballads. The children do an astounding job (especially those who play instruments!) and Stephen Leask leads the company with great conviction, creating a hugely likable character from the off. The show combines undeniable talent with great fun, and it really is a show for everyone – whether you’ve seen the film or not.

The Wrong Side of Prohibition – Thespis Project Theatre Company, 25/02/17

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Photo credit: Luke Stratta

Thespis Project Theatre Company is a relatively new establishment which brings new theatre to the city of Plymouth. A few other bloggers and I were kindly invited to a performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition which explores the lives of flappers and gangsters in 1920s America, performed in the brilliantly appropriate speakeasy bar, The Tigermilk, at The Duke of Cornwall Hotel. Thanks to the unique, immersive experience the cast provided us with, it was an exciting evening of exploring new writing which was performed by a promising cast.

The play was cleverly staged around the tables and chairs which seated the audience members, creating a totally immersive show and holding everyone’s complete attention throughout. The costumes were lavish and appropriate for the era, and the general décor of the bar created a stunning back drop for this historical piece, making it the perfect venue for this production.

Anastasios Chalas portrayed the authoritative, manipulative club owner Tony very convincingly, displaying some powerful dramatic acting and good interactions with the other characters – while allowing the audience to feel a small amount of sympathy for him at times. He was well supported by the smaller male characters, who collectively managed to convey the extremity of gender inequality within the society at the time.

Some of the most promising scenes came from the young women playing the showgirls – I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Frankie Hill as Jennie and Sarah Lawrence as Maggie, whose forbidden love was beautifully displayed in some tender scenes. They were complemented well by Heather Brown as Rose, the oldest and most experienced show girl who is even able to manipulate Tony, and Bryony Harvey who portrayed a believable mothering figure to the showgirls. These individuals displayed great promise within their roles, with Lawrence’s emotive acting proving particularly successful.

Another stand out performance came from Nicola Tyrer as Anna, the young Greek girl who is brought to the club at the beginning of the play. Her transformation from a timid girl into a confident singer was realised brilliantly, and Tyrer’s beautiful voice was showcased in her acapella solos, which she performed impeccably; remaining perfectly in key throughout and displaying a good level of acting through song. The contrast between her and the other girls was also evident, not only through their appearances, but also through their levels of experience.

This production was completely different to anything I’ve seen before – I loved the way that the actors broke the fourth wall through delivering their scenes in amongst the audience members – and lines which directly applied to us such as ‘what’re you looking at? Get back to your drinks!’ were both funny and believable given the setting we were in. The production felt far more intimate than your average show in which there is a clear divide between the cast and the audience; and getting to chat to members of the company afterwards was an added bonus!

I had a brilliant evening watching The Wrong Side of Prohibition, and it was really exciting to experience new theatre in the South West. The cast delivered the material impeccably, with some promising performers among them, and the location was simply perfect. I’d like to thank Thespis Project Theatre Company for inviting us to their performance, and I can’t wait to see what they go on to do next.

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Disclaimer: Thespis Project Theatre Company invited me to their performance of The Wrong Side of Prohibition, but all thoughts expressed here are my own.

Review – Together: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 06/11/16

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Two of the most well established male musical theatre performers have joined together to tour the country, entertaining hordes of adoring fans – most of whom have got to know them through their starring roles in mega musicals such as Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. Michael Ball and Alfie Boe have become household names thanks to their hugely successful careers, as confirmed by the ‘full house’ signs that adorned the outside of the Mayflower Theatre for the pair’s Southampton show.

Performing a mixture of show tunes and other numbers (including some jazz and swing tunes), this is the definition of a crowd pleasing show. The singers’ charisma and charm see them sail through the song to song transitions with ease, as they enjoy poking fun at each other and playing up to the audience (which mostly consisted of elderly women who swooned at their every word!). The on stage band are a joy to watch, and I very much appreciated the constant name checking of featured players, and in particular, the MDs. It’s brilliant to see a band getting so much credit thanks to being so integral to the aural AND visual aesthetic of the whole show.

The musical theatre numbers are definite highlights in the set list. The opening song (Somewhere from West Side Story) features gorgeous harmonies and an extremely clever orchestral arrangement, and is a brilliant way to kick the show off, setting the mood for what’s to come. Another favourite is Tell Me It’s Not True – although given that Blood Brothers is one of my favourite musicals, I’m probably biased! Alfie and Michael give a beautiful rendition of this emotional song, although it did feel as though the sound balance wasn’t quite right at times, especially during moments where the song pulled back a bit.

Although most of the songs performed are duets, the second half features some solos. While Alfie plumps for swing numbers and moves away from show tunes, Michael gives a stunning performance of Gethsemane, to the amazement and appreciation of the musicals loving audience. It must be refreshing for the artists to shake things up a bit and sing songs from genres that they’re not primarily known for, but there is no denying that the vast majority of the audience came hoping for an evening of show tunes – so understandably, these were the songs that got the best reactions!

This leads me onto the Les Miserables medley, which is outstanding. Apart from the fact that I was majorly fangirling and constantly in disbelief that I was hearing the original Marius and one of the ultimate Valjeans singing such iconic songs from one of the best musicals of all time, it is impeccably arranged, and each song seamlessly leads into the next. The harmonies are sublime, and it is the perfect way to end the show (apart from the encore of course!). Given that the audience consisted of so many Les Miserables fans, this was always bound to be a hit.

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s ‘Together’ tour will definitely continue to sell out to enthusiastic audiences for the rest of its run – and rightly so, given the incredible talent of these two performers and the brilliant show that they have put on. It’s a show for quite a select audience, but a very present audience in the current theatrical climate nonetheless. And speaking as someone outside of the key demographic (i.e. a third of the age of the majority of audience members!), I think they’ve made the show pretty much the best it can be.

Review – Mamma Mia! UK Tour, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 29/09/16

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Mamma Mia is the type of show that can almost guarantee packed audiences all over the country months in advance of it opening in each city. The success of the 2008 film (and of course, the popularity of ABBA’s music) has created ready made audiences everywhere who are super keen to experience the show live – and this touring production does not disappoint.

The show tells the story of a young woman and her three potential dads on the eve of her wedding day, on an idyllic Greek island. Despite my initial reservations about how the designers would recreate this setting on stage, the whitewashed set, colourful costumes and smooth scene changes ensure that the audience is consistently wrapped up in the world the show creates.

Although the show feels a little slow to get going, it soon picks up once the exposition is over and we are introduced to the main characters and their predicaments. Lucy May Barker holds the show together as Sophie, showcasing some great vocals and lovely charm and charisma throughout, as well as brilliant interactions with the rest of the characters, including Sara Poyzer as Donna. Poyzer portrays a lovely mothering figure, and the relationship between the two of them is totally believable and heart-warming, if a little sickly sweet at times.

However, the stand out performances come from the three dads. As soon as they are introduced the whole story line picks up, and their totally contrasting characters and motives are brilliantly conveyed without being over the top and pantomime-ish, making their segments the best parts of the show as their humour bounces off each other. Matthew Ronchetti (first cover Sam) gives a great performance, especially in the later numbers such as SOS, and Tim Walton is a hilariously posh Harry. All of these characters come together for the impressive act 1 finale, Voulez Vous, featuring some stunning choreography which really manages to represent Sophie’s confusion.

Jacqueline Braun and Emma Clifford play Rosie and Tanya respectively, and perform well throughout. I think a good proportion of the audience could relate to one or the other! At times the roles seemed a little overplayed and silly, but their humour was mostly lapped up, especially in Dancing Queen and Does Your Mother Know. Braun, Clifford and Sara Poyzer as Donna also give a great rendition of Super Trouper at Sophie’s hen party, featuring some striking harmonies.

The risk of touring a theatre show of a well-loved movie is that the public may be disappointed to discover that the musical is in fact rather different to the film (especially given that in this case, the film is based on the stage show). Numerous songs have been moved around, added or cut, and there are many script alterations. But as a fan of the film (well, my 12 year old self certainly was), I found these changes surprisingly refreshing – particularly the act 2 opener: Under Attack. The production achieves just the right balance between familiarity and refreshing changes. The orchestrations also bring something new to ABBA’s music; performed impeccably by the pit band led by Richard Weeden.

Mamma Mia is a fun show which will always have an abundance of people dying to experience it live. It avoids being a blow by blow reimagination of the film (or in this case, vice versa), meaning that there is something new for everyone. This touring production features a brilliant cast who perform ABBA’s music with huge amounts of energy and talent – and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so as the show tours around the UK.

Review – Groundhog Day, Old Vic Theatre, London, 26/08/16

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

In the current theatrical climate, a big budget musical that succeeds in every way is very hard to come by and something of a rarity – so the fact that Tim Minchin and Danny Rubin’s new musical adaptation of the 1993 film Groundhog Day has taken both critics and audiences by storm is definitely a pleasant surprise.

Broadway actor and Tony nominee Andy Karl portrays the lead role of Phil Connors, and he carries the entire show impeccably, especially considering that he rarely leaves the stage. His brilliant comic timing, charisma, and incredible voice ensure that the audience is constantly enthralled by his performance, and allow them to form a connection with the character as he becomes increasingly desperate to escape the time loop. It could be assumed that the repeated scenes could get dull, but Karl ensures that this is absolutely not the case by making subtle changes of intonation and timing, further making his interactions with the other characters (particularly Carlyss Peer as Rita) hugely enjoyable to watch.

The opening scene, set in Punxsutawney, paints a hilariously exaggerated picture of the village, visually contrasting the villagers’ colourful costumes with Phil Connors’ monochrome attire, and through the energetic, happy-clappy song which is subsequently repeated numerous times. The cartoon-like appearance of the show is a theme that runs throughout the entire show, and it is also displayed in the hoedown style song We Can Do Whatever We Want. The ironic, comical representations of transport could be viewed as over the top and silly, but in this context it absolutely works and adds to the fantasy and dream like element of the whole piece.

In any musical, the act 1/act 2 break can be difficult to manage – but Groundhog Day glosses over it seamlessly with a stunning act 1 closing number and a thought provoking act 2 opener. One Day, Someday involves all of the characters each singing about their own lives and what they’ll achieve ‘one day’, and this is undoubtedly a sentiment that every audience member can relate to. The revolving stage is used to its full advantage here too, effectively creating the illusion that Phil’s life is going round and round in circles. Tim Minchin’s simple, intelligent and moving act 2 opening song Playing Nancy is a beautiful way of transporting the audience back into the world of the show, and the number is performed brilliantly by Georgina Hagen.

As act 2 progresses and Andy Karl’s character starts to do more good than bad, the meaning and moral of the musical begin to shine through. The song about suicide is incredibly clever (both visually and aurally), and the illusions are carried out flawlessly. The later scenes between Karl as Phil and Carlyss Peer as Rita are touching and heart-warming, meaning that there is a totally refreshing feeling when the time loop is finally escaped from. The balance between song and speech is handled well, with the musical styles and genres never failing to complement the preceding or subsequent scene – and the orchestrations are so full that it sounds as though there is a band twice the size playing the accompaniment.

Groundhog Day is an outstanding new musical which succeeds on every level. Its heavy reliance on the undeniable talent of Andy Karl in the lead role is totally justified and there are some incredibly beautiful musical numbers, showcasing Tim Minchin’s outstanding talent as a songwriter. The staging is innovative and unique, making it extremely pleasing to watch, and the vocal and instrumental forces are perfectly balanced and executed throughout. If this show doesn’t represent the future of high profile musical theatre, I don’t know what ever will.

Review – Mary Poppins, UK Tour, Theatre Royal Plymouth, 10/08/16

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Photo: Johan Persson

Mary Poppins is the ultimate definition of a family musical. The timeless story, well known, catchy score and lovable characters make it a great experience for people of all ages, and the current touring production exceeds all expectations which may have been set by the 1964 film. The (unusually) un-star studded cast give brilliant performances throughout, producing an amazing interpretation of the story of the magical nanny.

Having seen another touring production of Mary Poppins in 2008, it is evident that the show has now been updated for modern audiences, through new musical arrangements and orchestrations, more exciting scenery, and enhanced characterisation. For example, the hint at a romantic attraction between Mary and Bert is enhanced in several places, making for a mysterious subplot. Additionally, the roles of Jane and Michael Banks (played very impressively by the talented Felicity Biggs and Diego Sanna) now have far more attitude and sass than before, probably allowing many parents in the audience to relate to their parents’ exasperation!

Zizi Strallen plays Mary Poppins as an unusual, mysterious and assertive figure, developing a brilliant relationship with the children as the show progresses. Her beautiful voice is showcased in A Spoonful of Sugar, as well as in the breath taking finale song: Anything Can Happen. Matt Lee delivers a good performance as Bert, despite a questionable accent at times. His cheeky charm and charisma shine through during Jolly Holiday and all of his exchanges with Strallen as Mary, allowing the audience to really form a connection with the characters.

Mr and Mrs Banks are difficult roles to pull off without becoming unlikeable, but Neil Roberts and Rebecca Lock give highly impressive performances. Lock’s incredible soprano voice is displayed in her beautiful rendition of Being Mrs Banks, and a great deal of sympathy is produced for her character throughout the piece. Roberts totally inhabits the role of George Banks, and absolutely succeeds in portraying the character’s many emotions and mind sets.

As with any show that is aimed at children to some extent, there are some sections which seem a little overdone with the sole motivation being to make people laugh. For example, the scenes featuring Mrs Brill (Beth Davies) and Robertson Ay (Blair Anderson). Despite being talented performers, these scenes feel as though the show has evolved into a pantomime. While the younger members of the audience may find them amusing, a large proportion does not, and consequently these parts seem a little out of place.

The big ensemble numbers are some of the highlights of this production. The monochrome colour scheme and clever choreography in Precision and Order are stunning, and make one of the lesser known songs one of the most visually pleasing sections of the show. Step in Time features a whole gang of chimney sweeps and some more brilliant dancing, and of course the crowd pleasing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is another stand out musical number. This production is both visually and aurally pleasing throughout, and the band (under the direction of Ian Townsend) give an impeccable performance of the exciting new orchestrations.

This production of Mary Poppins is an example of an outstanding touring production, and seems to prove that such shows can be done well on the road. The numerous updates have transformed the show to a certain extent, modernising it in the process. It proves to be a spectacle throughout, from the first sight of the Banks’ house to the final view of Mary Poppins flying to the back of the auditorium. This really is a show for people of all ages, which will undoubtedly continue to amaze audiences all over the country over the coming months.

Review – In the Heights, King’s Cross Theatre, London, 02/08/16

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The recent hype surrounding Hamilton – the show that has taken Broadway by storm and won 11 Tony awards – has undoubtedly sparked an interest in its creator’s other, lesser known show: In the Heights. Running at the King’s Cross Theatre in London, Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical tells the story of a Puerto Rican community in Washington Heights, featuring music that is rooted in hip hop and rap influences, arguably revolutionising musical theatre for new audiences.

King’s Cross Theatre is a unique performance space, which this production uses to its advantage in extremely clever ways. Although audience members are seated on both sides of the stage, looking directly at each other, it never feels as though anyone is missing out on the action due to impressive blocking in both scenes and musical numbers.

A number of understudies were on for this performance, such as Michael Cortez as Usnavi, the show’s protagonist. Cortez gives an incredible performance, portraying the character as a likeable, caring member of the neighbourhood, meaning that the audience is able to form a connection with him from his very first words. Cortez’s ability to portray a variety of emotions is greatly apparent when the plot takes a negative turn in act 2, and his performance of Alabanza is beautifully heart breaking.

Gabriela Garcia plays Nina, and performs two of the most emotional songs in the show (Breathe and Everything I Know) well, despite a little too much vocal force in the former at times. The scenes featuring her parents (played by David Bedella and Jocasta Almgill) are definite highlights, and Bedella in particular gives a great performance with noticeable depth having gone into his characterisation, as showcased in the song Inutil.

Emma Kingston creates a sassy and confident portrayal of Vanessa, which works well opposite Cortez’s Usnavi. At times it feels as though she is still settling into it, having only taken over in the role a week prior to this performance, but she gives an assured performance nonetheless, particularly shining in It Won’t Be Long Now. Dex Lee as Benny also deserves a mention for his impressive riffs and undeniable chemistry with Garcia as Nina – as well as his energetic and amusing performance of Benny’s Dispatch fairly early on in the show.

The show revolves around spectacle to a certain extent, often created by the intricate choreography which is based around freestyle and break dancing. The ensemble manage to convey the moods and drama through movement brilliantly, especially in The Club. The use of the ensemble is so clever, and the touch of them often sitting around the sides of the stage watching principle characters sing makes the production feel more intimate and all inclusive – as does the fact that the performers are able to make eye contact with the audience at times.

Further to the idea of a spectacle, the big numbers in the show require great levels of energy and this is more than delivered in title song, 96,000 and Blackout. Blackout is surely one of the most amazing act 1 closing songs in any musical – the choreography, lighting and vocal forces created by so many cast members singing different melodies create an all-consuming theatrical experience which leaves the audience stunned.

In the Heights is an incredible show which seems to offer something different to most of the other musicals that are currently showing in London. It feels completely modern, and full of energy and excitement, as caused by the outstanding current cast and the undeniable hard work of the creative team. The unique performance space only adds to this appeal of a show, creating a great musical experience for a wide range of audience members.

Cast recordings and becoming obsessed with them

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As I’m frequently reminded, theatre going is an extremely expensive hobby, and consequently I spend far more time listening to cast recordings than I do attending actual shows. So that involves seeing anywhere between 1 and 5 shows in a month, compared to listening to cast recordings on every journey I go on, as well as at various points throughout every day at home.

More often than not, before attending a new show I like to familiarise myself with the songs through listening to a cast recording (and often through playing the songs from the piano vocal score too). I find that this makes me even more excited to see the show live, and to hear my new favourite songs being sung for real. This was particularly apparent when I went to see Mrs Henderson Presents, because having listened to the original West End cast recording it was incredible to hear those same actors sing the songs in real life.

My current example of this is In the Heights; the cast recording of which has become my summer soundtrack. I started listening to it merely to get to know the songs (and because I love Hamilton… more on that later) but now I’m thoroughly obsessed, and counting down the days until I see it in the West End!

On the other hand, on numerous occasions I’ve gone to see an unknown show on a whim as a last minute decision, and have come out desperate to listen to all the songs all over again. Examples of this include Phantom (when I saw it for the first time in 2012), Oklahoma, Jersey Boys, Shrek and The Bodyguard. The only issue with this is that belatedly obsessing over the music only makes me want to go back and see the show again – which with touring productions (and my student loan) isn’t always possible!

And finally, there’s the frustrating situation of being totally enthralled by a cast recording but having no chance of seeing said show for quite a while… a la Hamilton. Never have I been so invested in a cast recording as I am with this one, and I love that it’s long enough to almost entirely fill my train journey between home and university. Even listening to the Miss Saigon soundtrack makes me a little bit sad that I won’t be able to see it again for a while. Sigh.

The better known, long running shows tend to have numerous cast recordings, from different years and productions, and it can be really interesting to compare these. For example, as much as I like the Stratford recording of Matilda, I feel that the Broadway version is superior in terms of orchestrations and sound quality. I own several different recordings of Les Mis but couldn’t possibly choose a favourite – each has its own merits and downfalls – although it’s always fun to try and guess which of the 5 versions of On My Own on my iPod has started playing when it’s on shuffle.

I absolutely adore cast recordings, and they’ve got me through many long car and train journeys (funnily enough, most of said lengthy journeys are to go to the theatre!).For me, obsessively listening to the songs from a show is the best way to get excited about seeing it, but it can also be so great to revisit the music after seeing a show live. And seeing as these CDs cost considerably less than a ticket to see the actual show, sometimes I have to make do with not seeing EVERY show live in order to make this hobby a bit less of an expensive one!

Billy Elliot UK tour at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff: Theatre bloggers on tour!

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It’s safe to say that Billy Elliot has become one of my favourite musicals. Having seen it twice in the West End (in 2013 and 2015), and then experiencing the premiere of the UK tour in Plymouth earlier this year, I seem to have developed an emotional connection to the show! I was lucky enough to witness the first dress rehearsal, a show half way through the Plymouth run, and to sit in the pit band for the final show in Plymouth. So, once post show blues kicked in and I realised that I wouldn’t be able to see this incredible show for a little while, my friend and fellow theatre blogger Ellie and I decided to rectify the situation by taking a trip to Cardiff!

We got the train from Plymouth and the journey was filled with stagey conversation. After making friends with the ladies next to us and changing trains at Bristol, we got on a train that was Cardiff bound. We speculated over when the Severn Tunnel might be, and got mildly excited (can you tell we’ve lived sheltered lives in Plymouth?!) but it was actually fairly uneventful… It was just a really long tunnel. Anyway, we arrived in Cardiff and walked to Cardiff Bay, where we sat in the sun looking out at the boats. It was idyllic!

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Wales Millennium Centre is the nicest and poshest theatre I have ever been to. The exterior of the building is strikingly stunning, and once we entered we were amazed by the spacious, shiny foyer area and the way that the whole theatre is like some kind of posh art gallery! The auditorium is gorgeous too, and even from our seats in the upper circle, we had a brilliant view of the stage and the band pit!

Matthew Lyons portrayed Billy at this show, and he has really come on as a performer in the last three months. His vocals are beautiful, his dancing is as impressive as ever, and I still adore his little acting choices which make his performance more personal. Bradley Mayfield played Michael, having only just joined the touring cast, and he was outstanding, and possibly the best Michael I’ve ever seen! Italia Ross was hilarious as Debbie once again. The adult cast never fail to blow me away, particularly Annette McLaughlin as Mrs Wilkinson, Martin Walsh as Dad, and Scott Garnham as Tony. Garnham is simply perfect for the role, and his performance impresses me more every time I see it.

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Sitting in the upper circle made me appreciate the ensemble sections more, particularly the formations made in the dance routines. The sound was also so loud and clear, but I’m not sure if this was due to where we were sitting or the amplification of the theatre auditorium. Either way, it was amazing to be able to fully appreciate the work of the pit band, led by Patrick Hurley. Musical highlights include Solidarity – one of my absolute favourite theatre dance routines because it is just so clever – Grandma’s Song, Electricity, The Letter and The Letter Reprise, and the whole finale sequence. As soon as the song Once We Were Kings began, Ellie and I became very emotional – and this peaked during the ‘see ya Michael’ and ‘yeah, see ya Billy’ lines. It’s such a poignant final moment in the show and it was executed so perfectly at this performance.

It was amazing to get to see the incredible touring production of Billy Elliot once again, even if I did have to travel all the way to Wales to see it! It is so interesting to see how far the cast have come and how much the show has developed since the very first dress rehearsal in Plymouth back in February, and I can’t wait to see it again in Southampton early next year. Ellie and I had a great day exploring Cardiff, getting stupidly excited about the gorgeous theatre, and of course seeing one of our favourite shows, and the trip was so totally worth it! Theatre bloggers on tour, OUT.

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