A night in Albania

This, apparently, is St Alban, who was a fourth century Christian martyr.  That’s a sword he’s holding there, ladies.  When Christianity was legalised, they realised “oops!” and feeling a bit embarrassed decided to make him a martyr and named a lovely small Hertfordshire city after him.  “We shall maketh a city from your name, Saint Alban,” they said, “And they shall fill it with Jigsaw, Crabtree & Evelyn and ladies hairdressers.  But, strangely, it will always be difficult to park there.”  St Alban was well chuffed.

Well, he has been deposed. 

On Sunday the new saint of St Albans arrived and it was this chappie who has featured before on this blog and who in this picture has forgotten to put his shirt on:

“Go forth, Lee Mead,” said the elders of the town.  ” You are our new saint.  Go knock those ladies bandy with your rendition of hit songs and showtunes and strut your sexy stuff.  The city is yours and belongs to you and your pretty hair.”  And so St Mead set out for Albania, to conquer its streets and win over its womenfolk.  This was simple, as the menfolk were drunk in the hostelries, watching England get battered by the Germans in Ye Olde Worlde Cup. 

We at Bluebird Towers have paid homage to Mead before on these electrical pages.  His career has been followed from the beginning and we think him talented and charming.  So, can you imagine the thrill of a front row ticket to see St Mead in Albania? I went with my theatre buddy, both of us in a state of excitement about the gig, and both of us melting hysterically in the oven-like heat of last Sunday.  I was so confused (I believe this is known as “Mead-mushed”) that I ended up paying for a Pay and Display parking ticket on a Sunday.  Apparently I didn’t need to do this.  Oh well, I can now park in St Albans legally until 11.45 tomorrow morning.   Parts of St Albans go back to the 12th century; but unfortunately, this part is the Pay & Display machine in the London Road car park, which doesn’t give change out properly.   Like all old towns that were based on a medieval lifestyle (central market place, church, abbey, alleyways, small shops, syphilis) motorcars do not like St Albania.  Car parks are splattered about by town planners in the most haphazard of places.  My theatre friend got delayed in the one way system, which was set up as a traffic calming measure in 1392.

We went to a very good restaurant for dinner – full marks to L’Italiana, 3 French Row for the most excellent garlic bread – where I spent most of the meal being sprayed with orange squash by a three year old.  I turned and said, “Calm yourself, my child.  I know it is exciting that St Mead is on his way to sing to the citizens of this fair town but restrain your excitement – oh and take your father’s wallet out of your mouth.”  We then lost the arena – it was tucked away behind a series of streets but when we eventually got to it it was obvious that there were No. Men.  In.  The.  Building.  Atall.  In fact, there was one – he sat behind me and whirred a vibrating fan contraption throughout the first song which alarmed me when I first heard it, I can tell you – but mainly the arena was a testosterone-free zone.   In the hottest auditorium on the hottest day of the year we settled into our seats in the front row but slightly off to one side.

By now my theatre buddy was too excited to do anything but giggle and wiggle about in her seat and I was so hot my head had melted.  They did eventually whack up the air con, but by then the place was filled with so many women that the room just went into oestrogen overload and it all went nuts.  How could it not go nuts when all of a sudden Lee Mead jumps out of somewhere in the first of a series of well-fitting outfits and starts singing “Paint it Black”?  Of course, at the beginning, the audience was sitting down and not very interactive.  But pretty soon he whipped everyone up into a frenzy and I for some reason got the giggles.  You have to interact with people on stage.  I suggested to my friend that perhaps she could show her interaction by straddling him or something, because there is nothing worse for a performer than a flat house.  I was once in a bad play (I was never in any other kind, it seems) and saw a heavily sunburnt Jeremy Paxman sitting in the front row picking bits of fluff out of his ear and looking miserable.  I am not saying that the audience on Sunday were miserable, as they were certainly not, but it might explain my over-zealous bopping in my seat, clapping, shouting and whooping that generally carried on for the next hour and a half.  I was just egging it all on, you see.  I wasn’t really just an aging teenybopper excitedly whooping at Lee.  It was a professional decision, you see.  Cough cough.

After the opener, we had a series of self-penned songs and covers.  There was only four musical theatre numbers all night, two of which were from Joseph.  He would have been stampeded out of the town if he hadn’t sung them.  The musical theatre songs being kept at a minimum was a clear and welcome indication that Lee is not veering dangerously into Michael Ball territory (an evening of showtunes performed in drycleaned jeans with a brass buttoned jacket ensemble).   Instead he looked a bit like a smart hipster and jumped about like a happy bean, ripping through “Nothing Else Matters”, “Gonna Make You a Star” and then “Close Every Door”  (there wasn’t a dry seat in the house…)  in very fine voice – until something extraordinary happened.

His support for the evening was due to be the porcelain doll-like Niamh Perry, currently chanteuse of Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies”, but she was laid up with a stomach bug.  Instead a lady from New Zealand arrived with a violin and a husband.  He played the piano and she accompanied him doing a series of Turkish rondos, ballads inspired by a holiday to Ireland called “Memories of Martin & Mary” – I can only imagine that given the feel of this piece Martin and Mary died during the course of this holiday – and ditties inspired by the view from her New Zealand house by the sea.  Her technical brilliance was exceptional, but the dancing that accompanied the music was uplifting and disturbing at the same time.  I wonder what Lee thought of this from the wings – maybe he was watching what remained of the World Cup from his dressing room – but the pace of the evening rapidly jerked off from rock and pop ballads to musical reflections of the view from violin lady’s cottage.  However, her extraordinary warmth seemed to win us over, as she chatted about how lucky she felt to be there.  She must have been very warm because she was wearing knee high socks in a heatwave, which is takes a certain kind of sartorial rakishness to pull off, I imagine.   But unfortunately the energy and frenzy of the evening had dissipated.

Something had to be done.

Mead was forced to retrieve the evening from where it was drifting somewhere off the coast of New Zealand.   “I shall lose my sainthood if I don’t pull this one back.  We’re in pretty choppy waters!”  he must have thought as he adjusted his famous curls and braced himself to deliver the audience a dose of his finest.  And, in the name of all things saintly, he did.  It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.  He bounced back on stage in a new suit and sang “Kiss” and gyrated about with such enthusiasm that the roof nearly came off the building.  After banging on about women and girls ruling his world he sauntered towards the steps at the side of the stage and before we could say “Coo – he’s going to sit on our laps”, he was dancing about in front of us in the first row.  And then he started moondancing and people practically lunged forward offering their wombs.  There was a collective sigh , and then he was up on the stage again.  And it was like the violin lady never existed.   

He knew exactly what he was doing, of course.  By the end of Act I I was scribbling furiously in my seat trying to remember the set list and putting my thoughts down.  None of it is legible now.  I had to have a chocolate ice cream before I felt normal again.  A charming and sophisticated performance – with the exception of the moonwalking – had completed Act I.  I am ashamed to mention that, as he introduced me and my theatre friend’s favourite song, we both responded with an audible “Urghh” from the front row that sounded as if one of us was in pain.  The second half brought us a Beatles cover, a song from his album which he didn’t seem to have the right words for, unfortunately, and we were granted the sight of watching his keyboardists embarrassingly supply backing vocals for “Jesus Christ Superstar” (one of whom was miming) which was so surreal it was worth the price of the ticket alone.  Mead’s top note at the end of this one broke the sound barrier. 

If there’s one thing I like it’s a bit of stool-singing.  I don’t mean singing that you do on a toilet, I mean singing that you do sitting on a stool.  There was one stagehand whose sole job it was to bring on the sainted stool and take it off again twice an act.  We had two acoustic guitar and/or piano numbers like this – which was not enough – that showed the true smooth tone of Mead’s voice.  Now, many musical theatre singers simply cannot do this.  Having been somewhat vigorously trained to bellow out a loud vibrato at any given point, they often loose the knack of singing very softly.  They think the louder the better.  They think Ethel Merman.  Sometimes, they don’t let the lyrics speak for themselves.  They also have a tendency to underestimate the technical ability required for softer, more intimate singing – they think it’s what people who aren’t proper singers do.  But it is, sometimes in the quietest of ways (those who heard Frank Sinatra singing in recording sessions were often surprised by his natural voice, which was very quiet).     But, thankfully,  Mead is extremely good at this.  His voice actually sounds better when he performs in this way.  It is rare that a musical theatre performer can understand and do justice to both types of singing, but he can.  And he should do more of it.  Preferably on a stool.  Wearing tight trousers.  Oh, you get the gist.

Chatty links between songs and a measured interaction with the audience also kept it all flowing professionally. Small segments of personal memories related the importance of songs and how the artist chooses to sing them and – just when he appeared to be fully worthy of his sainthood – he picked up a small child from the audience and sang to her.   This was not the same small child who had been throwing drinks at me earlier. 

He did what good professionals do – took a hard job, made it look easy, performed with lots of energy, behaved graciously and thanked everyone for coming to see him.  Then the good people of the city sainted him (the Patron Saint of musical ballads) and he drove back to Hampstead.  He seems to understand the value of two extremely important things; always play to your strengths as a performer and be very, very considerate to your public.  He also comes across as astonishingly genuine for someone in showbusiness.  If he continues doing this I imagine pretty soon he’ll be filling bigger arenas and branching off into other areas of acting work than theatre.  A tall order?  Well, watch this space.

St Mead of Albania getting used to his saintliness

St Mead of Albania getting used to his saintliness.

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Air conditionning

My father always said that when you are in London, look up:  On a day like the blinding one we had yesterday, it’s worth poking your head out of the bus window and looking up beyond the England flags.  I couldn’t concentrate on my book on the bus to work on Wednesday, so I gazed outwards and upwards from the top deck of the bus.

You notice things that you can’t usually see, because you’re too busy trudging ahead and staring in the distance at eye level, or gazing down at the bird shit-splattered pavements. I noticed several things for the first time, despite having done the same journey to work for four and a half years.  Another London life goes on up and above the commercial office and consumer shops of the city; hopeful flowers spilling over the roof railings from lovingly tended flower pots, small manicured trees jostling for space beside washing lines that, for the residents of the Peabody Buildings in Lumley Street, were strung across their roof gardens and today filled with bright white shirts and tea towels.

On Oxford Street, at the junction with North Audley Street, there is a tall building on the corner with an attractive weather vane on the very top of it in black iron.   All the way down Oxford Street, walking east from Marble Arch to Oxford Circus myriad television aerials sit on the top of roofs of seven storey shop and office blocks.  There is a decorative roof urn at the corner with Lumley Street (there is another of these ghoulish things visible from my office in Avery Row.  It stands higher than any of the seven differently layered roofs around it) And something strange at the top of the roof of the building housing The Body Shop (corner with James Street).  It looks like a circular Grecian mini-temple constructed out of black wood, but has openings for birds so seems to be a part-time aviary.

Looking up, buildings become monoliths – swathes of doric column at the front of Selfridges, tessellated brickwork jutting and curving out nonsensically above Starbucks.  Buildings remake themselves as their architectural designs are reinterpreted.  At the Park Road entrance to the Regents Park (just north of Baker Street station) the grand glass lamps are supported by sections of elegant iron, curving like a woman’s spine in recline.

With the weather being too hot to focus on a book, there was nothing else to do but gaze out and upwards .  Once you start looking up it’s difficult to stop, and drag your eyes back down to ground level in time to start your job.  The view of a city from the top of a bus put a skip in my step yesterday morning.  Heightening the line of vision is literally uplifting and made my reality more panoramic.  London from the view of a bus is whatever you want it to be.  Today it is blue, expansive, hopeful and gorgeous- so long as you remember to look up.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Game, set, match

The Bluebird does not believe in exercise.  Except tangoing at country weddings.  The rest of the exercise world passes the Bluebird by in a haze of ill-fitting tracksuits and jockstraps.  City walking is the London Bluebirds chosen sport – I am often to be found striding along in last year’s pumps in the friendly walk between work (Mayfair) and University (Euston).  At school I was mocked at in Netball and pouted slovenly through tennis lessons whilst wearing my Jim Morrison T shirt.  But I do love watching tennis.  I find the thwack of a ball against a highly-strung tennis racket one of the quintessential sounds of the English summer.  From mid-June when the grasscourt season begins, tennis spools from the Bluebird television in service, after service, after service.  I love it when the BBC2 schedules are completely ruined by one of those balmy days on centre at Wimbledon, when tennis players rage against the fading of the summer light to finish their sets.  Masterchef can go screw itself when Nadal is on centre.  Football ruins far too many women’s weekends.  When it comes to the summer tennis season, it’s my turn.

As I mentioned last week I was bound for Queens Club for what used to be the Artois and is now the AEGON.  It was cold and wet and an hour and a half was lost to rain.  I was scheduled to see top 4 seeds – Roddick, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.  All four were a letdown.  It was a corporate day out.  I was late and the front gate had misfiled me, under K.  Really!  Since when does “Bluebird” start with “K!” When I finally found myself, I managed to drop a special ticket that means I cannot get into the Pimms Drinking and Guffawing Area (or something).  Lunchwise, when I finally rocked up, it was fine fayre and splendid wine but the half an hour queue for food stank of “school”.  Nadal, when he did get out on centre, was petulant and under par.  Then rain happened and all hell broke loose.

The English are at their most formidable when there is a tea tent involved.  As the skies opened over W14 there was a migratory movement to the scones.  By the time we turned up, having been slightly slow off the mark, I could have wept. The members’ buffet area was rammed with the kind of people that look like extras from Four Weddings and a Funeral; indomitably English, well-preserved, radiant with a certain class and jollity.  There were no tables left.  Instead, we had to stand around for an hour drinking Earl Grey tea and leering at the people who had had all the chocolate cake.   Nadal came back on centre, got through but did not deserve to.  Murray came on at 7.15pm and we had an hour an a half before his opponent, Fish, decided it was too dark to continue and walked off the court at 8.40pm.

What the day brought home to me – truly for the first time – was the utter, utter obsession with the weather.  We were either talking about whether it was going to rain, when it was going to rain, what kind of rain would fall when it did, how wet it would be, would it be water when it came down, or perhaps some undiscovered elixir of the gods?  For four hours we talked about nothing but rain.  It was enough to almost make me eat my Columbo-style trilby hat. Talking about rain is what the English do between serves.  It means we don’t talk of ourselves.

The other thing the English excel at and which dominates the London summer season is drinking Pimms and staring at art and saying “Yes, but are you sure they have hung it the right way up, Angela?”.  I had to convince my mother drinking Pimms wasn’t appropriate for 10 in the morning when we zoomed around the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on Friday morning.  In the middle of one of the exhibition rooms is a large, orange egg-shaped Pimms centre from which staff dispense drinks, so RA members get high on lemonade and buy pieces of art.  The great thing about the Summer Exhibition is so much of it is affordable art.  In this day and age, a piece of art for £250 has more intrinsic actual value than – say – £250 added on to the cost of a house or a holiday.  The London Bluebird’s mode of living has only been sustained thus far by her insistence on renting in a overinflated housing market.  If I was to buy a house on the current salary in the current climate I would have to leave the city, and move to a shed in rural Bedfordshire, which myself and Mr Bluebird would have to section off into tiny bedsits to let out.  We could, perhaps, live on the roof.  This lack of property ownership has left me feeling dangerously without investments in the last few years, floating haphazardly upon an impermanent London life.

About a year ago I decided to take this to task, investing in small ways in things that interested me.  I bought some limited edition film stills at an exhibition, and Mr Bluebird buys art when the mood takes him.  I have also decided to invest in wine at Berry Bros and lay down a couple of cases for several years until they are ready to sell.  We have acquired a vintage cinema lobby card and I am looking to acquire more.  Apart from the obvious fact that I would rather actively assist artists and drunks through this recession rather than estate agents, it stops those of us who cannot afford houses in the places we would like to have them from feeling economically glass-ceilinged by the world.  It opens everything up; in many markets you could invest in a small way for £50 or £100.   Unlike an over-inflated housing market, anyone can participate.  In this recession small businesses and affordable investments will flourish.  Which is why I’m off back to the Summer Exhibition to buy a little piece of it for £100.  Because it means something – and because I can.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Cheese and music

The London Bluebird has ticked another birthday off the calendar. To celebrate, Mr Bluebird took her to Polpo, a restaurant so authentic and unpretentiously Venetian that I nearly walked out into Beak Street and hailed a gondola.  The really fantastic thing about Polpo is the presence of the spritz, the Venetian mid-morning tipple of prosecco and Campari.  The Venetians like to start drinking early so there is time for singing and fights in gondolas.  Venice is only sinking because of the vast amounts of vermouth and campari in it.

The food was outrageously decent and thoroughly good value.  It does not take bookings for the evenings, however, so I would advise a lazy lunch booking for a weekend special event.  Gorgonzola and walnut cloaked in a cheeky bit of mortadella – oh yes.  Chicken liver crostini that melted in the mouth (oh my!) and a plate of anchovy-butter-soaked asparagus that made my head fall off.  Oh, okay, not really, but you get the drift.  London-Italian food (Lotalian?) has been too Tuscany-based and over-priced for the last ten years (don’t get me started on the prices at Little Italy in Frith Street.  If you fancy you trip I suggest remortgaging your flat first) that it was great to eat something original and simple in a relaxed, low-key dining room.

The best thing, however, was the presence of appropriate music.  I am not an old person, despite the fact that I have had a birthday, but I cannot dine to techno.  It plays havoc with my innards.  The unsuitability of music can ruin any occasion.  Music has a memory – potent and imprisoning – and we are hostages to it.  One great happy meal can descent into mawkish misery because the song playing whilst you wolf down a tiramisu is the same song that was played the day you were dumped in 1996.   Music must be selected in terms of its ability to prevent indigestion because no one can have a fulfilling gastronomic experience with Celine Dion in the room.  

This is where Polpo got it so right.  They played very early Beatles, a dash of the Who, and St Albans greatest exports – The Zombies.  The feel of the restaurant was very much New York modern distressed SoHo with a slap of early-1960s London on the top of it.  The music enriched the experience and made us happy.  However, I had managed to sit directly beneath the speaker so spent most of the meal like this:

Bluebird : It’s very good – have you tasted this chicken?

Mr Bluebird : What?

Bluebird : WHAT?

Mr Bluebird : Are you going deaf?

Bluebird : Yes, almond and orange cake.

When we paid up, we flattered the staff on the choice of music.  Apparently the manager was away, which meant they got to chose the music at weekends.  During the week, they said, the manager favours something more modern, a bit of techno… At the weekends they had carte blanche, which proves the well known fact that very often the bar staff know more about what people want than the managers do. 

Last night my best friend and I went to L’Artista – a little bit of Naples in NW11 – for their consistently good pasta and antipasti.  Another well-priced, unpretentious neighbourhood Italian, where the enjoyment of our evening was only marred by the presence of a huge, riotous birthday gathering on the table next to us who were guffawing, shouting and having a very high time indeed.  In L’Artista, the staff play an old version of Happy Birthday over the loud speaker at top volume and get out cymbals and drums to accompany it.   It’s very loud.  It’s very Italian.  Patrons who aren’t used to it start choking into their vongole.  After the musical version of Happy Birthday is finished, L’Artista always play Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” at top volume and bang their cymbals a bit more.  Okay, it’s not The Who, but it’s done in the spirit of generosity and is better than most restaurant music.  Obviously, if Celine Dion came out of the kitchen banging a cymbal I’d smash it over her head.

Today I am praying it won’t rain as am off to the Aegon tennis at Queens Club, so apologies for the short blog update this week.  Bluebird is armed for shenanigans on centre court – mac, umbrella and trilby-esque hat which unfortunately makes me look like Columbo.  Unsure as to whether all three games will get played today – depending on whether the rain will hold off in West Ken – but we’re scheduled for Roddick, Nadal and Murray on centre court today (Woohoo!). So, if you watch BBC2 and see a lady dressed like a 1970s TV detective, slurping Pimms and using a “Let’s Speak!” Italian grammar book as an umbrella, then you have probably clocked the Bluebird.  New balls please.

Next week – the view from behind Nadal (why does he spend so much time playing with his bottom?) and hopefully a review of my third Italian experience of the week – the Princi in Wardour Street where the mother of the Bluebird is taking me for breakfast on Friday.  Arrevederci!

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

The Tale of Two Musicals

Many moons ago, when London was a swamp and the city was moving slowly through the PSE (Pre Starbucks Era) the London Bluebird put her tap shoes on and trained in musical theatre.  She is not quite sure why this was, only that she loved to sing ,and thought that a childhood spent overdosing on black and white musicals was finally coming home to roost.  But it turned out to be a wrong turn, because the London Bluebird was a vaudevillian, fast-talking dame, and was crestfallen to discover that the world of musicals had gravitated to soft rock, suburban hairstyles and Queen songs.  Twas not meant to be this way, thinks the London Bluebird.  Somewhere along the way, she was supposed to be a singing and dancing Claudette Colbert and somewhere it had all gone horribly wrong. 

However, the London Bluebird hath no snobbery and adores the television competitions that have been run by MiLord Lloyd Webber.  It is much better to be a punter than a those that get punted (competitors) in this industry.  When Lloyd Webber turns up on telly with a rash of Marias, a school of Josephs or a busload of Nancys, numbers are frantically dialled and winners are passionately voted for.  Whole Saturday nights are centred around the sing-off in our house.  There are some people in the industry, dawhling, who fail to appreciate these programmes.  They are nonplussed by them, they think them shabby and unprofessional.  The very populism of these shows offends them.  But the truth is that the acting industry is full of chancers and people who need to be kept on their Grade IV ballet toes.  The idea of someone singing their lungs out on primetime Saturday night television makes the rest of the hoofers realise just how much talent there is out there.  I trained as an actor for three years. I learned nothing; I spent three years being told what to do by a never-ending line of dipsomaniacs in tights.  It did me no good at all.  I enjoy it hugely when someone wins who has not wasted thousands of pounds on the bitter dipsomaniacs in tights.  It’s good for the drama schools to have a slap in the face once a while (trust me, I slap drama teachers daily.  It’s character-building.) 

Which brings me to Wednesday night.  Me and my theatre buddy went to see Lee Mead in ‘Wicked the Musical’.  We did this because we go to see Lee Mead in everything and basically follow him around.  Now, Lee is trained in musical theatre.  He’s also got a BA in smouldering.  We think he is tremendous and have his CDs.  Other people think we are slightly dotty,  but we don’t care because we utterly adore Lee and think that everything he sings from his lovely little lungs is somewhat fab.  Between him and Michael “Mickey Bubbles” Buble you have my favourite two male crooners of the hour.  My theatre buddy and I both voted for him for the show that searched for Joseph (Lee Mead, not Mickey Bubbles).  Lee was quite clearly the only one worthy of the coat.  We could not stomach the idea of Chipmunk Keith or lank as piss Lewis in the lead role, my friends.  

Several months after Lee claimed the Technicolour Dreamcoat crown and went off to be an Israelite with Tim Rice lyrics, I emailed my theatre buddy to see if she wanted to see Joseph.   Her reply arrived with such rapidity that I thought I saw a trail of smoke behind it as it scorched the office internet router.    I purchased two magnificent Stalls seats forthwith, our enthusiasm not dampened by the fact we had to wait five months for our seats (had Denise Van Outen bought all the others?).

By the time Joseph day rolled around, we were whipped into a feverish frenzy and arrived at The Adelphi after a jolly supper and a bottle of wine, but then something happened that not only affected the whole evening but appeared to change the whole mood and sober us up with immediate effect:

 “Lee Mead will not be performing tonight.  Lee Mead will not be performing tonight.”

 It was a small man, parroting away at the entrance doors to the lobby, sweating through his cheap suit and handing out flyers that said exactly what he said, but on paper, for those theatergoers who hadn’t had the misfortune to hear him.

 I do not remember this but my very good friend with me assured me that I turned around, stared at the man, opened my eyes and mouth to equal width and said:

 “WHAT?”

 He just kept on saying it, “Lee Mead will not be performing tonight,” whilst staring at me like I was an affectionate, yet slightly slow child who had been placed in his care and for whom he felt grudgingly responsible.  I was most disappointed by this.  Meanwhile, inside the theatre, it was fucking carnage.  

People had come from all over the British Isles, judging from the mish mash of accents.  Television had enveloped everyone in the country within its greedy arms and pulled them towards the theatre. Humberside husbands were getting angry at ticketsellers because they’d come down from wherever they had come from and paid for a Travelodge and theatre tickets so the wife got to see the boy she fancies from the telly, only to discover that had A SORE THROAT.  Yorkshire accents bounced off the art deco lobby interior.  The Strand hadn’t seen so many provincials since the last Countryside Alliance march.  A lady in the queue to exchange tickets told me the cast were enduring a plague of sore throats which has reduced Joseph’s biblically accurate 11 brothers to a measly 9.  And, bizarrely, some of the ladies would be played by boys that evening (Plus ca change – this is musical theatre).

 The lady behind the (let’s hope bulletproof bearing in mind some people’s anger) plastic ticket booth was lovely and gave us a special letter.  The letter went on about Lee and his sore throat and that SEE tickets would honour us and we had to make a telephone call and then we would get tickets reissued. 

And then, six weeks later, on the day of our replacement tickets, Mead comes down with a chest infection and gets signed off by the theatre doctor. 

We suspected a personal vendetta – he seemed to know when we are turning up and was resisting singing Close Every Door in front of us.  This means we developed a pathological obsession to see the show – hey, if we were loons before, we are now 100-carat gold loons – the further it moved away from us, the more we wanted to see this rather peculiar show which was actually written by children.  Oh, no, sorry – written FOR children.  By Andrew Llord Webber.  Who is not a child but who looks like a baby in a big man’s body.  Third time lucky and it’s nearly Christmas.  SEE tickets, God bless ’em, have enabled us to swap our tickets again.  Which is a good job.  Otherwise this whole Lee Mead Quest would have cost us thousands.  So 18 months since Lee won his Joseph competition, he is still so successful (deservedly) that tickets are tough to get hold of.  I mean, jeez, he only met Denise Van Outen on the show and they’ve managed to buy a palatial Kent pad and nearly get engaged in the amount of time it has taken us get to the Strand and take our seats.   When we did eventually see it – in December, shortly before it closed – he was, of course, marvellous and fantastic and all the other remarkable attitributes you look for in a star who doesn’t wear much on stage.  It is rare that someone with a bit of genuine charm and sparkle comes along in musical theatre so it is only right to treasure them when they appear. 

So, now what feels like several years later – though is only two – we rocked up to ‘Wicked the Musical’.  (Do they call it that in case we think that ‘Wicked’ is actually ‘Wicked the Football Match’ or ‘Wicked the Cleaning Fluid’?  We know it’s a musical!  If you: a) Paid £60 for a ticket, b) got your ears blown off by overloud vocals, c) went to a bar that charges £5.60 for a glass of Reisling that strips the skin off the inside of your mouth and deprives you of your will to live, then congratulations, you’ve been to a West End musical).  Lee was playing Fiyero in a pair of very tight trousers that left nothing to the imagination.  Fortunately, he was present, we were present and no one got ill.   He danced charmingly, sang fantastically and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  There’s not multicolour or coats in ‘Wicked’ or anything – just green,  green, green.  Everything is green.  Especially the reflection from the faces of other male juvenile musical theatre actors who haven’t got Lee’s job.  hee hee.   The score, unlike Joseph, is not written by children and is in fact written by a chap called Stephen Schwartz who has won all kinds of awards.  Well-deserved, I say.  My theatre buddy did get confused looking for the loo in the middle of Act I though, and I did keep seeing her going in and out of various doors to the auditorium with a puzzled look on her face, but she didn’t miss much. 

Musicals lift you up, in a kind of ‘Wicked the Musical’ defying gravity way, and it is unfair to expect Londoners to brave the Victoria Line and come back to reality with a thud.  We must be let down gently, and treated kindly.  We should be shepherded to late carriages and driven home softly on a cushion of goosedown, or at least given a steak at Joe Allens.  Sprites and muses should join us on our journey and serenade us with a soft medley of the musical we have just seen.  Real life cannot intervene.  That’s why I avoided the underground, jumped into the back of theatre buddy’s cab and kicked my shoes off and dozed all the way back to Bluebird Towers.  A good musical should pep you up for about 24 hours (42nd Street once had me high for a whole week.  Really) and should make you feel a trifle buoyant.  If a musical doesn’t make you feel joyous then you should get every penny of your £60 back.  Even if Lee Mead isn’t off sick.

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