Spontaneity versus planning

I’m of the opinion that one can be both a fan of the well planned, and inclined towards spontaneity.

I like a good plan. I like to know where my life is headed. I like to know things in advance.
But, I also like having the space into diary to be spontaneous. Or, rather, to have the space in which to be spontaneous. A too-full diary means saying no to fun things that might be last minute, and that would be sad…

This past weekend was an excellent example of this dichotomy. Since January, theatre tickets had been booked for Sunday & Monday. An empty diary for Friday night and some late Thursday night ticket booking allowed for a spontaneous trip to the theatre.

April Musical FunMormon, Commitments & Matilda. Am I annoyed that I forgot to take a photo of the outside of The Cambridge Theatre? You bet I am! 

There is a myth that theatre in the West End is unaffordable and difficult to do at the last minute. Admittedly, ‘affordable’ is subjective, but I consider anything £25 or under to be good value. (I ought to confess that I have also been very lucky in having friends over the years who have secured freebies, so I’m spoilt.) Our tickets on Friday were £20 + booking fee – and they were good.

What follows is some wisdom I’ve amassed regarding theatre going in London. It’s my personal opinion (obviously), but some of it might prove to be useful…

Last Minute Tickets
It’s never too late to book tickets. (Well, until the show starts, obviously.) Some of my favourite theatre-going moments were the result of spontaneity. Like £15 tickets to A Chorus Line, less than 2 hours before curtain up. We should have been up in the gods, but ticket sales were low and the upper circles were closed – we ended up in row D of the stalls and had a jolly good time. Tickets were courtesy of the ticket booth inside Leicester Square station (thank you sibling’s out of work actor friends…) and the moral is: never be afraid to ask what the cheapest deal is!

Some shows (not enough, in my opinion) run a lottery for their front row before each performance. It’s a regular occurrence on Broadway, but so far the only shows I know to have done it in London are Legally Blonde and The Book of Mormon – and I’ve benefitted from both. The deal is, you arrive at least 2 hours before the performance, fill in a form & await the drawing of the ‘winning’ forms, which give you the right to bag a bargain. I got Legally Blonde tickets on my first attempt; Mormon ones on my fifth – it can take dedication and good chunks of free time in central London.

Often, there are no ‘bad’ seats
Our £15 Chorus Line tickets were sold to us with the words “there are no bad seats at the Palladium”. One of the tricks to bargain theatre going is getting to know the seating plan. Obviously, the ‘best’ views are the most expensive tickets – but look around. This genius website lets you read reviews of specific seats in specific theatres, rating the view. You might think that sounds ridiculous, but thanks to it, I scored a £20 seat at Billy Elliot, next door to a £60 one. The difference? I supposedly had a restricted view – but the website informed me that the view was fine.

Friday night’s choice was another restricted view (thanks to a ridiculous pillar). We couldn’t check my website friend, but we took the risk – and won. The view was fine, being in row I of the stalls helped a lot (I like being able to see faces), but also, the two seats next to us remained empty, so we scooted over in the interval. You never know when you might get lucky…

Know when to compromise
The 2nd show of the weekend was Matilda, which I’d seen over 2 years ago. But Morv (who I was accompanying to The Book of Mormon for show 3) hadn’t seen it, and we thought we’d fit a performance in. Mormon tickets are pricey (unless you do the lottery), so we didn’t want to pay too much – so ended up on the second from back row of the gods. Morv was desperate to see it, so any seat at all was good for us, even if it meant enduring a Sunday afternoon matinee with a lot of children! (Who, incidentally, behaved beautifully.)

As mentioned, Mormon tickets are pricey and require advance booking (unless you can manage the lottery). Having attempted 3 lotteries with Morv last year, booking tickets had to be the way forward (she lives in Durham, so does not fall into the ‘large periods of time in central London’ category), and we got ours back in January. Booking proved to be tricky, given their policy of not letting you book 2 tickets if it leaves 1 on its own. Plus, it’s the hottest ticket in town and is priced as such (airline style, so prices rise with demand). But, we compromised on view – going for 2 seats in a box that had some form of restricted view. Yes, we compromised WITH A BOX! It was a good compromise – the only bit we couldn’t see was the far end of our side, and very little happened there. Plus, seats in the box (all 4 of them) moved, you could lean out, and it was fine. We didn’t ask how much the couple who joined us had paid for their tickets, given as they’d bought them the night before…

Mormon boxYes, I took a photo of our box. Don’t judge me – Morv took a video of the walk down our own corridor…

Take a risk
Yes, I’d seen Mormon & Matilda before – I’d really enjoyed both of them the first time and would happily see them again – but Friday night’s offering was The Commitments (currently at the Palace Theatre). I’m on intimate terms with the soundtrack (thanks in part to several years singing a Commitments Medley in a youth choir), but never got around to watching the film. Ultimately, I knew it was likely to be fun – and it was. Great music, not much of a plot, lots of cheese – but a great night out. I got to have quality time with a friend and we left the theatre singing the tunes. Good times. There is a lot on in the West End. Some of it is dross (you will not catch me in the queue for Dirty Dancing, for example), but there’s a lot of good stuff.

Take Gin 
Or Pimm’s. Those cocktails in cans are frightfully useful in theatre-going situations. I know how to be über classy…

This final tip’s a little niche. Ever since our first trip to see Legally Blonde, Morv and I have had a soft spot for its leading man. This actor now happens to be playing Miss Trunchbull in Matilda – this fact had absolutely nothing to do with our choosing to see it, it’s pure coincidence. Over post-matinee dinner, I tweeted a genuinely well-meant compliment on his performance and became slightly giddy when he replied. I am very easily pleased.

Gaumond Matilda tweet

Quirky London and quirky musicals

Off the back of Tuesday’s geektastic London transport related videos, the first offering for this week’s fun is both London-centric and informative. Taking you to 10 ‘quirky’ locations in the capital, it captured my attention for 2 reasons:
(i) It explains what goes on inside a building in Mornington Crescent that’s intrigued me since I started going past it every day aged 11.
(ii) It reveals the location of a dog cemetery in central London.
Architectural geeks may also get excited by the revelation that you can play with a giant map of London showing new developments in an office just off Tottenham Court Road.

A word of warning: it’s 2 years old now, so some of the info is a little out of date – just in case you decide to plan your weekend around its contents.

Tenuous link time… London is a great city, home of theatres that have housed some of the greatest musicals ever written and some of the world’s best musical theatre artistes. One of the best things about the MT world is that it doesn’t take itself seriously, willingly taking the mick out of itself on a regular basis. America has Forbidden Broadway, and now Britain has Michael Bruce’s Unwritten Songs.

One of these songs – Portrait of Princess – has been turned into an awesome video, featuring various stars of the West End. Snow White is Julie Atherton – last seen in Avenue Q (Trekkie Monster’s puppeteer’s also in there), while Cinderella’s none other than recently crowned ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ – Sheridan Smith. Oh, and Russell Tovey’s in it too… [Warning: it probably ought to carry a 15 certificate at least. This is no Disney musical.]

This links rather neatly with the next gem – which is miraculous and totally coincidental – and is included with much thanks to Annabelle. What’s (almost) better than a Disney parody? Why, six versions of the same man singing a Disney medley of course! It’s a perfect follow up, as the first song of the medley is in fact the Disney song that I ended up singing having watched the parody. Even if you’re not into the slightly odd phenonmenon of people singing with themself, this is well worth the watch – the captions are an added humorous bonus, and honestly, who doesn’t like Disney songs?

I ♥ Jodi Benson, Lea Salonga and Alan Menken too! Love it.

Oh, and if this has reminded you of the fabulous Sam Tsui (who I personally think is a notch or two above Disney Medley guy), have no fear – the two of them have duetted on none other than a favourite Wicked track. (I think this reveals which is the stronger singer, and it’s not the one that does all the twiddly bits…) 
Random aside fact, he also works for Disney as an animator – the links just keep getting better and better! 

A lesson I may need to learn…

…gay, or European?
No, not some trashy MTV reality show, the main thrust of a track from Legally Blonde: The Musical. Despite being the self-confessed lover of musicals that I am, even I raised eyebrows when Legally Blonde was turned into one a couple of years back. It’s a fabulous film – I want to do Harvard law every time I watch it and I will confess to having a few political Elle moments when in DC last month – but a musical? Really?
We’re now just two months away from its West End opening and my vow of avoiding it like the plague is slowly crumbling. There’s still the massive problem that it stars my least favourite actress (Sheridan Smith – I dislike her for a whole host of reasons), but to balance that out there’s a great male lead (Duncan James) and now I’ve discovered the comedy of the soundtrack.
Today, C sent me a link to a song he thought I might find both amusing and educational, it’s from the moment Elle turns the trial round towards the end of the film and is entitled “There, Right There” but really should be: “Gay or European?”.
Good friends will know that this is doubly comic due to recent events. Being able to distinguish between men who are gay and others who are simply European (in the Euro-sceptic British sense of Europe only beginning once you cross the English channel) would be a distinct advantage to my life. Some excerpts that might come in handy:

You see they bring their boys up different in those charming foreign ports.
They play peculiar sports.
In shiny shirts and tiny shorts.
Gay or foreign fella?
The answer could take weeks.
They will say things like “ciao bella”
while they kiss you on both cheeks.

There! Right There!
Look at that condescending smirk.
Seen it on every guy at work.
That is a metro hetero jerk.
That guy’s not gay, I say no way.

That is the elephant in the room.
Well is it relevant to presume
that a hottie in that costume
Is automatically-radically
Ironically chronically
Certainly pertin’tly
Genetically medically

And with those words of advice ringing in my ears, I’m off to spend the evening listening to the entire soundtrack in hope of more gems. God bless Spotify!

Two rude awakenings

I like to consider myself a little bit of a Musical Theatre buff. (That’s the slightly more intellectual way of saying “OMG!! I like, totally love musicals!!”) Every so often a musical will come along that will capture my imagination and I’ll listen to the soundtrack over and over again.

Spring Awakening was one of those shows. I started to hear whispers about it a couple of years ago, thanks to an actor friend of mine. He’d once been in the play on which the musical was based, was intrigued by the Broadway show and captivated by clips on youtube that he then showed me. A few months later he became part of the casting process for the West End production & I acquired the soundtrack. Since then, it’s regularly been in my ears.

The show is possibly unusual for a musical in that it tackles hard-core issues: from teenage sex and rebellion, to suicide and child abuse. There’s something rather unnerving about singing along to an album and then realising that the lyrics tell of the fear of a child being abused by her father. It contains the anthemic ‘Totally F**ked’ and my personal favourite ‘My Junk’ (on the age-old subject of unrequited love).

Anyway, last week me and Annabelle (my favourite Musical companion) got our long-awaited viewing of the show. It’s always entertaining seeing songs you know well in their proper context, in this case, aspects were downright shocking. Lovely, gentle ‘My Junk’ was accompanied by (amongst other activities) a boy’s head nestling in his piano teacher’s bosom whilst another boy spent rather too long in the bathroom looking at a photo…(that’s me being tasteful).

We don’t shock easily, but by the time the curtain came down for the interval, we were gasping! Really well staged and brutally honest, but there’s just something about the show’s German 19th century setting that makes all the language and nudity we’re accustomed to in the 21st century rather brash and harsh.

This post was (as I’ve been thinking about for the last week) meant to be about this ‘rude awakening’, but today I’ve had another. Despite only opening in the West End in March (and having more than a three year run on Broadway) the show’s closing at the end of the month – 5 months early.

The audience last week was sparse but appreciative. But clearly the West End in the credit crunch isn’t the time to be launching a harrowing rock musical. There were crowds of people outside Dirty Dancing just up the street – clearly what people want in a recession is something to make them feel good.

The silver lining to this otherwise grey cloud is that you can get great deals on tickets at the moment – Joseph for a fiver anybody?