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A weekend of trips down memory lane

​I was trying to think what on earth would link a touring production of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, a short play, Waking Up Dead, about the effects of domestic abuse on a previously gregarious young lady, and two concerts, the first being a whistle stop tour through the professional musical theatre career of Debbie Kurup, the second containing sixteen numbers from the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon. Aside from being shows I went along to in the same weekend, they were all retrospective in nature.

​To misquote Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hair is Hair is Hair, and all the elements from two previous productions I’ve had the privilege of seeing (Geoids Musical Theatre at the Bridewell in 2016, and before that, the Gielgud Theatre run in 2010) were present in this one from Aria Entertainment. Seeing it from the third row of the stalls, it might as well have been called Wigs. It was very energetic, though there wasn’t quite the same level of fourth-wall breaking that the Broadway cast that was brought over to Shaftesbury Avenue in 2010 achieved. But then, this is a British cast presenting Hair to a British audience. Yes, for the record, they all get their kit off prior to the interval.

A band of five, led by Gareth Bretherton, comprising keyboards, two guitars, drums and bass guitar, was occasionally supplemented by uncredited others. Berger (Jake Quickenden) started off very well but his stage presence wasn’t consistently maintained. At least his American accent was consistent throughout, which wasn’t the same for everyone. It’s tempting to name names, but I can’t be bothered to embarrass anyone. The stand-out performance for me came from Paul Wilkins’ Claude, with one of those singing voices that could listen to all day if only my life weren’t quite so busy.

Waking Up Dead is a play I’d seen twice before, put together by some local friends, one of whom is married to an ex-colleague (we both resigned – at different times – from the same company, and are infinitely happier having left that terrible workplace). The hasn’t had a huge amount of coverage, mostly because it has only been put on a handful of times by Safeword Theatre UK, still a small outfit as this is their debut production.

With after-show drinks and conversation that carried on until 2am (partly on account of British Summer Time kicking in at 1am), I’d not spent quite so much time in Wimbledon in some years. I got to New Wimbledon Theatre for Hair just prior to the 2:30pm start of the matinee performance and stayed in the town centre for dinner before shooting off to the evening show. When I arrived, the Mayor of Merton, Councillor Mary Curtin, was already outside the door to the Merton Arts Space, which shares a building with the Wimbledon Library, and the door was firmly shut.

A confused moment or two later (there is more than one entrance to the building), once it was determined we could come in after all, and the production team hadn’t called the whole thing off at the last minute, the Mayor turned to me and said, “No early night for me then!” The Mayor was a nurse when she came to England from County Tipperary in Ireland. And that’s all I got to find out about her, because she was ushered into the hall and given the mayoral treatment, making use of the conveniences, being introduced to the producers, and so on and so forth.

Jenny Perry and Camilla Yates were tasked with a monologue each, the first telling the story of Sandra, the second providing a different perspective on events from Sandra’s sister. As Safeword Theatre has no plans to put the play on again – it appears to have run its course and served its purpose, or so I’m told – I may as well (proverbially) projective vomit a spoiler or two, or ten. Sandra is married to Paul, who was rather charming to begin with but gradually began to exert ever-increasing levels of control over Sandra’s life. But she was in love with him and would and did quite literally a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g that was asked of her, including resigning from a job she liked earning a living from (as far as one can reasonably ‘like’ employment – I’m sure you understand). Paul gets angrier and angrier until his fury manifests itself in the form of an assault. The neighbours overhear Sandra’s pleas for him to stop and put a call in to the police.

He is taken away having been arrested, she is taken away in an ambulance to Accident and Emergency. She eventually succumbs to her injuries, surrounded by her family. The same night that Sandra passes, Paul is barred from a pub for being obnoxious, and having had so much to drink he can hardly walk in a straight line, his perception of his surroundings fails him, and he dies in a road traffic collision. The play’s original final act was to include a short(ish) monologue from a police officer, who would, amongst other things, go through the various options as to what help and assistance is available. This was cut completely, if only because an actor pulled out and the team did not wish to re-cast, but I thought it worked perfectly fine without what would effectively have amounted to a post-mortem lecture.

Thank goodness for good mothers, and thank goodness for Debbie Kurup’s mother, who arrived at The Crazy Coqs even later than I did (thank you, London Underground, for not running to your supposed timetables), such that I didn’t miss any of Kurup’s ‘Songs for Mother’s Day’ concert. Steve Holness was at the piano, and while I can’t think of anyone who didn’t do a splendid job sat at The Crazy Coqs’ piano, this was something quite incredible. But then, as Kurup pointed out, Holness (who is also Kurup’s fiancé) has worked with Adele, Paul Weller, Petula Clark and the late Amy Winehouse. It was a short and sweet – and eclectic – mix of showtunes and popular music, in a variety of musical styles, with some anecdotes thrown in. in other words, everything one would expect from a theatre star doing their own show. Kurup and Holness are running the London Marathon 2019, supporting Crohn’s and Colitis UK:

Leicester Square was the quietest I had experienced it to be for some time, it being a Sunday night, so I had no problem getting myself a table in a restaurant even though I hadn’t pre-booked. As I pointed out on social media, an American tourist had correctly pronounced ‘Gloucester Road’ whilst in conversation with his companions, which I was impressed by. After dinner I popped back to The Crazy Coqs for an evening of showtunes composed by Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and written by Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960). It replaced a Jason Robert Brown concert which was moved to the infinitely larger Theatre Royal Haymarket: but TRH has taken quite enough of my money for the time being after I saw Only Fools and Horses The Musical recently, and in any event I find his songs seem to go on longer than a General Election campaign.

This, too, was a perfectly splendid concert, this time with Henry Brennan at the piano. Georgia Lennon, a soprano studying at Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom, a performing arts college that doesn’t exactly have the largest of intakes each year but whose graduates do tend to go on to have stellar careers in entertainment, won a competition run by ‘Crazy Coqs Presents’, led by Mark Petty, and gave a note-perfect performance of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from Carousel. Petty is already running another competition for his next Crazy Coqs concert, one of the relatively few announcements on social media on the morning of 1st April that was absolutely bona fide.

I thought the selection of songs was excellent, including very familiar tunes from The Sound of Music and lesser known works such as Flower Drum Song. Tim Rogers had the unenviable job of singing the Soliloquy from Carousel, apparently an eight-minute number (I say ‘apparently’ as it didn’t feel ‘long’ and I didn’t time it). The other soloists were as sublime as one another: Jon Tarcy, who I have never seen in a musical but has a remarkable singing voice; Amara Okereke, the current Cosette in the West End production of Les Misérables; Christina Bennington, who has done a good number of shows in her career to date but, let’s face it, most (including me) associate her with playing the female lead in Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell The Musical; and Vicki Lee Taylor, who played Miss Honey in the 2017-18 West End cast of Matilda The Musical, and most recently played Jodie in the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch production of Kiss Me Quickstep.

What I didn’t know before is that The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization have released a series called ‘R&H Goes Pop!’, which allows interpretations of the R&H canon using more contemporary arrangements that wouldn’t be out of place on chart music radio. A couple of these arrangements were included in this concert: they are fresh and different, allowing audiences to hear these songs in a new way – some videos can be seen on the Rodgers & Hammerstein YouTube page. I admit to being slightly exhausted by all of the above, but I don’t regret any of it in the end.

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