Birthday Fun Les Mis, Phantom & Sweeney style, August 31st- September 1st 2012

So,  another epic weekend in London town gone, choc full of awesome memories that made my 22nd birthday weekend something truly special! Are y’all sitting comfortably? Good, you’re going to need to be with this round of fangirling! 😀

Now, as some of you might know, I went to see Sweeney Todd back in June. For some reason I’ve never understood still to this day, I didn’t write a review. So, here’s the lowdown  following my birthday visit on Friday 31st August!

Now, I loved it dearly first time round, but he thing that struck me most throughout the show’s entirety is how it really seems to have grown and developed into a real theatrical tour de force- the cast have really amped up their energy levels and there was just a feeling I had that the whole company felt ‘tighter’ and really took their understanding of the piece and their characters to a completely different level, with a new tenacity, depth and intensity that I adored from the first till the very last note.

Michael Ball- What can I say? This production was the first opportunity I’ve had to see him live, and by GOD am I grateful for both visits. The first visit, I had an idea of what to expect in terms of how well he would sing, but was completely bowled over by how well he inhabited the dark side that the character of Sweeney embodies. As with this trip, there were times when he genuinely frightened me; and yet I couldn’t bear to tear my eyes away from him. (Well, except when the design of the Adelphi’s dress circle overhang and the movement of the set during ‘Epiphany’ right forward with Michael at the top dictated that all I was able to see were his torso and legs, but not that that’s a bad view at all!) It meant I lost the intensity of seeing Michael’s Sweeney at one of his darkest, menacing moments (it’s all in the eyes and facial expressions for me) but I got the gist 🙂

Michael’s best scenes in my eyes:

The Prelude/Ballad of Sweeney Todd: This is one of many parts of the score that give me shivers, I thoroughly enjoyed the buzz and sense of anticipatory joy I experienced when the music signalled Sweeney’s imminent arrival and the shaft lifted at the top of the stage to reveal Michael sitting in Sweeney’s barber chair ready to give the immortal lines: ‘Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd, he served a dark and a vengeful  god, What happened then well that’s the play and he wouldn’t want us to give it away..’

Johanna (Reprise): Just beautifully sung, I love Michael’s version. This part always puzzles me, as yet again the audience laughed watching Sweeney dispatch his victims and the bodies go down the chute. In my mind, I think: Ok he’s slitting throats whilst doing it, but here’s a man who’s consumed by his obsession for vengeance and angry at the world and life in general, baring his soul about how much he misses his wife and daughter and the life he once had. Why are people giggling? (I know why of course, but personally it spoiled the moment a bit for me is all)

Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir: ‘This is piss. Piss with Ink!’  Enough said 😀

          The Final Scene- Here’s where Michael treads the line between fury and despair (here’s one of the bits that frightened me as I was also furious with Mrs Lovett on Sweeney’s behalf and the way he growled ‘YOU LIED TO ME!’ at her gave me chills. Though as he held Lucy in his arms and tries to come to terms with what he’s done, I teared up and he near enough broke my heart.

Imelda Staunton- She completely stole the show as Mrs Lovett. Her comic timing is faultless and on both occasions I’ve seen her she had the audience eating out of her hand throughout. I feel privileged to have seen her on stage as I’m a fan of many of her films and other work. I loved her energy and enthusiasm and how it punctuated every scene she was in, and the chemistry between her and Michael really lit up the stage. Special highlights were A Little Priest and By the Sea… both had me in absolute stitches!

Special mention also to John Bowe who was again awesome as Judge Turpin (Much love for his and Michael’s Pretty Women!) and his version of The Judge’s Johanna (Mea Culpa) has really developed in terms of how sinister and creepy it is.For those of you who don’t know, this song was cut from many a production of Sweeney, perhaps because of the fact that  the Judge is shirtless and whipping himself with his belt and singing about his lust for Johanna and how he is tormented  yet excited by it.

Another to James McConville for another wonderful performance as Toby.

Slightly amusing anecdote: they had to stop the show about ten minutes before the end due to a technical hitch, but it was speedily rectified after some rather flustered sounding announcements from the theatre staff. Good times 😀

All in all it’s an awesome show and I feel privileged to have seen it both times, it’s up there just behind  Les Mis for my favourite London show experience, and I hope the theatrical powers that be consider maybe bringing it back again sometime in the future after its limited run ends later this month… I’d certainly make another return visit!

Now, circumstances meant that I was unable to stay to Stage Door on my last visit, so I was so happy to be able to on this occasion. It wasn’t massively busy, but everyone was crowding round the door so it was pretty difficult for me to get anywhere near in view of any of the departing cast… so here’s where I’d like to say my first big thankyou to my friend Kristine who was an utter star and very kindly steered all the men in my direction and literally ran off to ask Imelda if she wouldn’t mind coming back!

James and John are both sweethearts and Imelda and I had a laugh about it being my birthday and my age (apparently I don’t look a day over 24 ;)) and we didn’t have to wait much longer for the man himself who, in the space of a single sentence, won the award for my funniest stage door greeting, glancing at my wheelchair with one of his glorious, dimple inducing smiles:

‘What’re you doing round here, lovely? Shouldn’t you be at the Olympics!?’ 😀

We both burst out laughing and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for hours after meeting him!

Another big thankyou to Kristine for the yummy Green & Blacks Chocs, my Les Mis bracelet and the card signed by Hadley after his last Javert… SO  kind of you to spoil me so and share the day with me!

Still with me? Good… take a breather- there’s more to come!

***

Fast forward to 11 o’clock the next day, and I’m with two of my best friends, hanging out in front of my favourite place in the world, near enough bubbling over with excitement at the thought of another amazing day! Another huge thankyou to Daneyka & Lou for the amazing gifts of my Panda necklace and purse, my ‘Les Pandas’ bag, and of course my Hadley bear! (Cutest teddy in the shop, dressed like and named after my hero? Onto a winner there, ladies- he hasn’t left my bed since!)

We made our way round to Stage Door, and eventually were meeting the wonderful Rob Vickers. I did see him on our last visit but didn’t manage to meet him properly, which is probably why I proceeded to talk his ear off and make up for the five previous times of going to  see Les Mis, then going to SD  and missing him! I’d like to thank Rob for indulging my excitable chatter with such warmth and good humour, it was a pleasure to meet him at last and I thoroughly enjoyed the craic, as the Irish call it. Also looking forward to the possibility of another cuddle from him in November, his cuddles rule as does his taste in double denim 😉

Next up came Adam Linstead- funny anecdote… while we were waiting for Rob to arrive, Daneyka and I had seen him before Lou did, so there were lots of whispered ‘Lou, look!’ and not so subtle gestures in his direction. The same thing happened with me when Adam turned up, queue me all: ‘What, Where?’ and seconds later yelling ‘Adam!!!’ at him like the excitable loon that I am. We spent a great few minutes chatting and I handed over his present before he had to dash inside in lieu of his duties as Dance Captain.

Still with a while to kill before the show, the girls and I did a quick detour over to Her Majesty’s theatre, home of The Phantom of the Opera to say farewell and good luck to a favourite of Daneyka’s, the very sweet Nadim Naaman. We did so, and I must compliment the man himself for his genius use of the window where he balanced his Raoul picture and signed it for Daneyka. As a bonus, I got a cuddle and a kiss from the brilliant Killian Donnelly and we all enjoyed chatting with him. Shoutout to one of my twitter pals, Shauni, who it was great to meet at last! Adam also sent me an adorable tweet with a photo as thanks for his present that cracked us all up.

Shortly after, we began the trek back towards Queens and the barricade… let the fun commence!

***

Now, I’m not going to lie- I was a little on edge about seeing the new cast, purely because I’d become so familiar with the 2011/2012 gang. My grandma had remarked to me that she thought I’d hate it now that Hadley and a few more of the familiar faces I’d grown attached to have gone off to pastures new, and it got me thinking: I’m slightly fickle in the sense that I’m drawn to seeing shows particularly if I’m a fan of the people in them, and as such I am admittedly reluctant to spread my theatrical wings and broaden my horizons. When it comes to Les Mis however, I learned very early on in my previous encounters that yes, I may have gone for the people, but I return time and again because the show has a kind of magic hold over me; the music, the lyrics, everything about it. I laugh, I cry, I get chills in particular places every single and most importantly, whenever I enter that theatre, clichéd and sappy as this sounds, I feel like I’m home. With that in mind, I thought back to my grandma’s remark, and knew, before the show was even close to starting that it wouldn’t be the case for a minute, and boy oh boy did the new cast wash away my anxiety really quickly!

Geronimo Rauch now shares the title of my favourite incarnation of Valjean. His voice is really powerful and he brought out a new kind of sensitivity to the character that I fell completely in love with- he moved me to tears during Bring Him Home, which I was expecting, but what I wasn’t  expecting was to be crying after his… oh, 3rd line?

Another little touch that I really loved that none of my previous Valjeans had was just before he takes the unconscious Marius down into the sewers. After the battle ends, he runs over to where Marius is lying and in a panic just says: ‘Marius! Marius!’ softly before resolving to take him to safety.

As is customary by now, I also cried at the finale- a testament to another beautiful moment in Geronimo’s performance.

As you know if you know me well (or have just taken time to read my previous blogs) I am a huge fan of Hadley Fraser. Herein lay the major cause of my ‘new cast’ anxiety, given that I’d become so attached to his fierce, animalistic take on Javert. But by GOD has Tam Mutu taken the truncheon and ran with it! I loved his cold, menacing take on Javert (he has one of the most epic evil laughs ever which made the Take your revenge, how right you should kill with a knife scene a highlight for me), and I was completely smitten with him by the opening lines of The Confrontation. He has total command of the stage and drew me in so completely that during his renditions of Stars and Javert’s Soliloquy, I had chills running up and down my spine that near enough refused to go away.

The chemistry between him and Geronimo is truly amazing to watch, and like on both occasions I  saw Ramin & Hadley in the roles, really lit up the stage.

I must give an equally special mention to Sierra Boggess, who managed to achieve something neither of my previous Fantine’s (great as they were) were able to do: make me cry with her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream and really help me to find the truth in the story she was telling.

Much love also to the aforementioned Rob Vickers, and the brilliant James Charlton for the laughter during Master of the House!

Speaking of Rob, throughout the show I was reminded of something he said to us at Stage Door earlier in the day, about this new company having a really special kind of energy. Boy oh boy was he right!

Can’t wait to book my next trip…….. Oh wait, I already have 😉

 

Stage Door wise, huge thanks to Nicky for her warmth and humour, James for being excited by the gift of Haribo I handed over, Rob for his patience and ‘chasing down Geronimo’ skills, Geronimo for his shy humbleness, Danielle for being so sweet, Craig for the remembering me and the lovely chat and Tam for his kindness and all the smiles. All of you made my day!

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