Friday Fun returns

Hoorah! After the irony of missing the delivery of my new broadband router because I was in the café three doors down using their wifi, I successfully collected and installed it this morning – in time to put together a little bit of fun for Friday.

But first, can I share with you the ridiculousness of my Friday morning trip to the Royal Mail depot? Honestly, why are these things never simple? Fortuitously, yesterday I missed both the router and my Olympic Park tickets (which arrived at the old flat), so I was able to kill two birds with one stone. Genius. Well, genius, until I handed over the cards to the woman at the counter, who identified several issues:
1. One person with two cards but delivered to two different addresses.
2. Could ‘Liz Clutterbuck’ and ‘Elizabeth Clutterbuck’ be the same person?
3. Why did my ID say ‘Miss’ yet one package was addressed to ‘Mrs Liz Clutterbuck’.

Jeez… I should probably just explain the last one (I’m sure you can figure out the others). Somehow, TalkTalk have decided I’ve got married. Neither me nor the church administrator who set up the account can work out how this happened – suffice to say, I am getting none of the benefits of being married. [When I mentioned this on Twitter, a friend who happens to have used my Eurostar account recently reported that they have me listed as ‘Mr Clutterbuck’ – also have no idea how that happened.]

Anyway, so, the fun…

First up, some classic TfL goodness. I suggest you think of these when despairing of London transport during the Olympics. Over the last couple of weeks some new variations on the classic tube map have appeared. One makes use of the Bible, while the other proves that using the tube is as simple as A, B, C:

For the full-size version, check out this pdf.

The latter map is clearly something that I would consider suitable for hanging on the wall of my offspring’s nursery. Absolutely adore it! 
Combining my love of Twitter, maps, church and beer, here’s a delightful infographic that illustrates the frequency the words ‘church’ and/or ‘beer’ were tweeted in US counties during a week in June. Makes for very interesting reading: 
I particularly like the fact that during the week in question, I was tweeting from the US and therefore I contributed to it with my occasional tweets about Texan beer. I know for sure that during that week I tweeted more about beer than I did about church. 
Finally, something that combines my love of public transport with my love of spontaneous musical moments. It’s a little old, but it retains its goodness and should – unless you have a heart of stone – bring a smile to your face this afternoon. The friend who shared it with me did so with the words “your camp man alter ego might enjoy this…”, I’m not sure I have such an alter ego, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Singing alonga in the shire

I think there’s just one cinema context in which it’s perfectly acceptable to break several elements of The Code of Conduct – where singing along isn’t frowned upon, it’s actively encouraged; where phone action in the form of photography is positively essential; and the audience’s noise levels rise, instead of falling, as the film progresses.

On Thursday night my sister and I spent the evening participating in Singalonga Grease back in the Shire, courtesy of our former neighbour and a long awaited Christmas gift. This friend had previously made several trips to Singalonga Sound of Music and I’d experienced Singalonga Joseph at a Greenbelt yonks ago, so it seemed logical that the Grease version would be something we’d appreciate. Not least, in fact, because it has a long-standing history with us. I babysat J’s children while she and her husband watched a 20th anniversary re-release; and we took their eldest girls to see it for the first time.

Sure, the year before last Greenbelt put on a sing along Grease screening which we entered into with aplomb. But it wasn’t the official ‘Singalonga’ experience – that’s something quite exceptional. It includes goodie bags with props for various points during the film, so for Grease we had a balloon, tissue, chequered flag and a party popper (I’ll leave you to use your imagination as to which got used when). Plus a host who kicks off proceedings with a bit of a singing warm-up and choreography advice. (I am now proficient in the hand-jive. I am immensely proud of this.)

But the most essential element of any Singlonga screening has to be the costumes. Years ago, when first experiencing Singalonga Sound of Music, J arrived at the venue to discover a sea of nuns and felt foolish that her family were not appropriately dressed. At two further screenings they went to town, on one occasion even creating a set of outfits out of curtains – that, my friends, is dedication to the cause. The key to these things is to choose something a little niche, like the people who went as brown paper packages tied up with string, or my sister’s cardboard guitar. Willing audience members are always invited up on stage for a costume contest, and it can get rather competitive.

For Grease, we were a little flummoxed. Pink Ladies jackets are two a penny, and 1950’s prom dresses can be hard to come by, but what else could we do? In the end all three of us simply went for ‘generic 1950s girl’, which was fine. However, on the morning of the show I was seized with an idea that, had I had been inspired days earlier, could have been a roaring success – all I needed was a Victorian style nightgown, a sheet of pink note-paper and an inflatable paddling pool.

[Don’t understand? That would be Olivia Newton-John’s outfit and props for Hopelessly Devoted To You.]

Arriving at the venue, we found many similarly generic 50’s ladies; a multitude of Pink Ladies; a plethora of Frenchies with unfortunate pink hair; and a smattering of T Birds. The competitors for best costumes included few truly creative numbers – although the bright spark who decided to go as Eugene had my vote. However, there was one group of women who were definite exceptions. It took me ages to get a photo of them, and this was the best I could do:

That, my friends, is the costume from Beauty School Dropout and is, what we like to call, genius.

And this is what we looked like:

The effect of all of this is a night out best described as a hen night on acid. Men were very much in the minority, and there seemed to be an awful lot of wine purchased from the cinema’s bar (we had Diet Pepsi and Jelly Babies – classy). In fact, when I finally get to the point of having a hen night, a night out like that wouldn’t actually be a bad way to go – normally I decry dressing up on hen nights, but I’d make an exception for this. No one seemed to mind when we shouted out the lines, and the subtitles were a joy to watch – not just simple words with a bouncing ball, no, this was full-on animation. An especially favourite moment was during Stranded at the Drive-In with the addition of dancing hot dogs and ice lollies.

I’ll accept that such an evening out might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do highly recommend it. In addition to the films mentioned above, there’s also the obligatory Singalong Rocky Horror and Abba. Honestly, what’s not to enjoy about that?

Friday Fun with confident musical dinosaurs

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m quite a fan of musicals and singing in general. Obviously, there are hours and hours (in fact months) that can be whiled away in musical pursuits, but some are more fun than others. My first piece of Friday Fun for this week is an old skool game – it involves no computers or phones, just honest-to-goodness musical skill and a similarly skilled friend.

The ‘sing alternate words’ game was taught to me by Morv (my companion in deeds of spectacular musical geekiness) and I have no idea where she found it. It’s very simple – one person sings the first word of a song [if you’re really on the ball, the other half of the pair will have to guess the song from its first word and notes] and the second person sings the next word – so on and so forth until you tire of the ridiculousness (or you forget the words). You can play with more than two people, but it gets very tricky. Personal favourites (unsurprisingly) for playing this game with include For Good and Defying Gravity from Wicked – though the latter can get quite confusing given that many of its lines are similar, yet subtly different, making it very easy to get lost.

Somehow, I ended up sharing this game with a colleague at work. She caught on very quickly and we were soon singing I Have Confidence with much mirth. Afterwards, she shared a video with me which had me in awe – if you’re a lover of The Sound of Music (which of course is where the aforementioned song comes from, if you didn’t know that, shame on you!) this will amaze and inspire you:

Yes, that is the Captain’s house; and yes, she’s running (and singing) up the same road that Maria runs up while singing that particular song. I particular love the rucksack standing in for a guitar case and Hannah (my colleague) running backwards, trying simultaneously to film and not laugh. Impressive. Unfortunately, the girls were trespassing (and luckily got away with it) which means it may be difficult for others to emulate. But, on the off chance that it’s possible, who’s up for a trip to Salzburg?

In case you’re not at all interested in musicals set in the Anschluss, how about some dinosaurs? In fact, how about some animated, singing dinosaurs on the banks of the River Thames? I think you might agree that this video is genius in all kinds of ways:

One final piece of fun. You might be aware that the Rugby World Cup’s currently being held in God’s Own Country. If you’re really up with your rugby, you may also be aware that France (possibly Europe’s best team at the start of the tournament) were beaten last Saturday by the ‘Ikale Tahi – the Tongan team – 19-14. I was very proud (and gutted that it was on while I was asleep). Sadly, France qualified for the quarter-finals over Tonga on points scored (but will be beaten by England this weekend), but I was very proud of my national team. In their honour I share a flash-mob haka – and before you point out that a haka is a Maori war dance, let me point out that all Polynesian tribes have their own version of this, including the Tongans. How scary would it be to suddenly find yourself in the midst of this?!

Get thee to a nunnery

Well, at least that was my thought on Thursday…
That’s when I finally went to see the immensely fabulous Sister Act. I liked it when I saw a bit of it at West End Live, I loved it when I got the soundtrack, but I utterly adored seeing it in the flesh.
My loyalty to Wicked remains for ‘best musical in the world – ever’, but Sister Act wins in terms of entertainment and atmosphere – not to mention costumes.
Who wouldn’t want to be a nun if it meant sparkly habits, glorious dance routines and catchy tunes? Honestly, I was sold – to the extent that I almost succumbed to the special offer combo of wimple and rosary at the gift shop!
Well, except for those pesky vows. Not sure it would quite be worth giving up alcohol & nice food and taking a vow of chastity (though some might say I already seem to have taken one). That, and apparently Sister Act doesn’t accurately portray the convent lifestyle – who’d have thought it?
Anyway, the show is fabulous. If you’re in London, watch it, you won’t regret it (promise). I particularly appreciated a couple of references to other musicals, that being the geek I am (indeed, my friend also being a geek), we got a lot of enjoyment from:
(i) Just prior to Sister Mary Clarence teaching the sisters to sing, she says “let’s start at the very beginning” to which one of the sisters responds “it’s a very good place to start”. Not only is this a wonderful cross-reference between nun related musicals, but the last musical to play at the Palladium before Sister Act was the Sound of Music. Clever.
(ii) The actress currently playing Sister Mary Robert (the timid postulant) was previously Nessarose in the original West End cast of Wicked. (For the non-Wicked initiated, she’s the Wicked Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz and owns the ruby slippers.) At one point, Delores hands her a pair of awesome purple boots and suggests that if ever she needs to assert her independence she should put them on and click her heels together three times. I’d like to think that it was a deliberate pun.
Ok, I think you get the picture – I loved it. It was well worth the standing ovation it probably gets every night. Even the 80+ year old woman sat next to me jumped to her feet. And because you simply have to see the spangly habits in action, here’s the trailer:

Why all musicals should include nuns…

…well, why not?

The Sound of Music has long been an example of this, but now the new Sister Act can well & truly join the ranks of a classic nun musical.
An inspired gift choice from my sister was the brand new (i.e. less than a week old) stage soundtrack which has rarely been off my ipod ever since. There’s just something about the combination of classic film plot, nuns, Bible & church references, gospel/disco music that makes it utterly irresistable.
Add to the mix a classic composer of the Disney school (Alan Menken – Beauty & the Beast, Little Mermaid, Aladdin et al), and it really doesn’t matter that the film’s Motown soundtrack couldn’t be used.
I’ve not yet met anyone who’s seen the show and not liked it (and I’m not just talking about those who usually show a penchant for ‘musical theatre tat’), but there seems to be an added enjoyment for those with a church connection – especially a Catholic one. It’s all in the small details, like songs with the following lines in them:

“Shake it like you’re Mary Magdalene.”
“Fill th church, pass the plate! Everybody transusbstantiate.”
“Picture you and me one sweet, sweet night in a pool of votive candlelight.”
And because my sister gave me another inspired musical gift – the classic Starlight Express – I’ve been able to spend the weekend doing a bit of comparing and contrasting of musical theatre styles…
Is it just me, or do other people sometimes conduct bits of their lives as if it were an academic exercise? Most often these thoughts occur when I’m listening to music and I’m all of a sudden back in GCSE aural mode (though not usually complete with a man narrating proceedings with an ultra annoying Birmingham accent – just the way he said ‘Midland Examining Group’ was enough to draw a groan from my class). It’s all to do with listening to patterns, falling in love with particular techniques/moments and identifying similarities with other works/composers.
I’ve decided to spare you my thesis on the topic. Suffice to say that Starlight Express – the first musical on rollerskates (only musical on rollerskates??) hasn’t aged brilliantly. Some great songs, but let down by random songs about trains. Maybe it’s one of the ones you need to watch to understand? Sister Act will probably last, it’s got that timeless Disney quality about it.
Plus, I still maintain that if you throw a couple of nuns into a show, you’ve got an automatic hit.
[As an aside, should you fear that my sister’s gifts have exacerbated my appalling taste in music, her presents also included the Daniel Merriweather album which I highly recommend. She was using the age-old tactic of using a decent music purchase to cancel out a suspect one – it helps balance the world’s equilibrium.]