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Wednesday, January 5

What a day this has been...
What a rare mood I'm in, why it's almost like being...

Okay. Enough of the quoting of the musicals. That was "Almost like being in love" from Brigadoon by Lerner and Loewe. That song has been known to tumble rather beautifully from Alfie Joey's mouth during his set. Alfie came to see us in Edinburgh, which was a lovely surprise.

Anyhoo. It has been a rather full day. Such is my lot. Firstly some sad news. I received an email from Blaized Carmey's brother Ruman to inform me that Blaized is now dead. He was able to hear the work I'd done on setting one of his songs to music before he died, but that's that. Since Blaized is undoubtedly a fictional character, we shouldn't be too concerned with the interruption to the planet's life force. However, in some ways I shall still mourn for him. He was quite a character and I enjoyed reading his posts on the internet.

I got accused of handling a biro in a filthy way today. I was just fiddling with a rubbery grip on it, though I can see now, in retrospect, that that might have looked like I was rolling a foreskin on and off its tip. Surely I've got better things to do with my time than simulate genitalia with writing implements?

In other news I bought a pair of tap shoes at lunchtime. I can now go clippety clop as much as possible. I can be a happy tappy chappy. I wrote those words in an email earlier and they seem rather appropriate. I've done some calculations, and the only room with a floor suitable enough for me to practice in is my utility room. This is rather small, so I will look very silly in it. Such is my lot.

I have been a good little boy and cycled in and out of town today. I didn't use the car once. I have not been incredibly restrained in the eating department, but I think my subway sandwich at lunchtime was largely made of healthy ingredients (I rejected the disgusting "cheese" they put in the things and it was one of their lower fat options anyway). My evening meal, which I'll come onto in a moment, had not been incredibly health-conscious in its conception, but it wasn't a huge quantity and I am quite active at the moment.

Not having the car led me to require a little of my lateral thinking. Given that today is one of the few days on which I'm not rehearsing, and given that Starlight Express finishes in Sunderland this weekend, I decided to go and see it. However, I couldn't get through to the theatre's own box office, and the online ticketing service couldn't sell me a ticket for today. In addition, their helpline could only tell me that there were still seats, but that I'd have to go along in person. Given that I'd been in the office since 8.15, I didn't have to stay late at work, but the time it might have taken to cycle home and then get the car might have been the time it took someone to come along and buy the last seats for the show. Then I had a brainwave. Actually, this was not a massive stroke of genius. I needn't go home at all. I could take the Metro to Sunderland and pick up my bike on my return. The return would either be after the show or, if I failed to get a ticket, a few minutes after walking out of the box office with my head in a cloud because I'd travelled all the way to Sunderland to be disappointed.

As a plan it worked.

Starlight Express
The theatre had a seat for me. I had about 90 minutes between buying the ticket and the show starting. I was able to use this time to answer one of my unanswered questions for the evening - "What shall I have to eat?". I went to a local Wetherspoons and had their fish and chips. Though I suppose I'm writing somewhere about it, it was nothing to write home about, nor was it unpleasant. Just £4 worth! My waitress, who was an energetic big girl (not wobbly big, just impressive in stature) gave me my plate and announced that she knew me from somewhere. Then she asked if I have a brother. I told her that I did, but that I doubted she'd know him. We worked out that she'd probably seen me on stage, or hanging around with the comedians at the Royalty gig one Wednesday night. That was that problem solved - albeit with the ringing tones of a strident Sunderland girl's accent filling the smaller room off the bar to which I'd retreated for some peace and quiet.

A while ago I suggested that musicals could and should be summed up in two-word phrases. Starlight Express could be summed up as Singing trains or Rolling along. In some ways, this was very much Cats on wheels. I've heard virtually nothing of the music of this show. I think I recognised the title theme and that was it. I knew very little about it other than it was "that show on rollerskates about trains". Having seen the show, I'm still not 100% clued up! Okay, that's not true. I got the show. It is, after all, a kids' show. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the couple next to me, who seemed to be in deep conference in various parts of the show - probably trying to fathom out what the hell was going on. Their talking was annoying, but I decided not to interrupt them, since they seemed well-to-do enough and it can't be their fault entirely if they don't understand a straightforward bit of kid's entertainment.

In some respects bits of the show were not that impressive. Some of the characters seem pointless and some of the songs are quite repetitive or without the characteristic catchy melodies which Andrew Lloyd Webber does so well. Fair enough, some of the show was rapped, so there wouldn't be a melody expected there. Although I detected strains of Joseph in one of the songs and a few fiddly bits here and there which I knew I'd heard elsewhere (within the ALW collection, I'm sure), this show wasn't classic Lloyd-Webber. Some of the lyrics were irritatingly simplistic or contain real groaners of word-play. Thanks, no doubt, to the influence of groaner-word-player-extraordinaire, Richard Stilgoe. So, in many ways, I looked at the show with a cynical eye... but...

I really enjoyed it. There's more to a musical that the words or notes on the page. It's about a total experience. This show has a couple of good gimmicks. Firstly, they somehow make you care about some trains which are played by humans. While I never really felt I was looking at a real train, I bought into the fact that there were some trains having some races and the underdog steam train was the one I was rooting for. Secondly, the show is one of the most physically challenging things you'll see a bunch of singers/dancers achieve on a stage. The choreography would be hard enough to achieve without the roller skates on. These guys are on skates, doing amazing stunts, dancing in step, moving around the stage almost without giving away the fact that they're humans on rollerskates, and they've still got the breath to sing. Not only that, but the show I saw was their second of the day (they did a matinee) and their 4th of the last two days. This is hard work.

I'll admit that the hard work has its benefits. Female dancers often look more shapely from their exertions. The combination of the costumes and the rigorous training, meant that the ladies in this show were quite stunning of figure. Especially around the leg. Why, in my mind, I'm linking this fact with the statistic (from the programme) that, during the 18 year run of the show at the West End, they used 1.2million boxes of tissues, is anyone's guess.

I enjoyed the show. I was impressed. Some of the pastiche songs were classics and some of the lines left me wishing that I'd thought of them first. Their deconstruction of the blues was brilliant. I laughed out loud. I quite liked the segments where they went to video too. Rather annoyingly, in one of their video captions, they misspelt the word "definitely" using an "a" in place of the second "i". Why do people make this mistake? It's probably the way we mispronounciate the word (I know that mispronounciate is not a real word, but I like it and if Andrew Lloyd-Webber's team can use words that do exist with incorrect spelling, then I can make up my own words!). To make the cut-scenes more interesting, they'd filmed some of them in 3D; we were all presented with polarised-lens glasses as we took our seats.

So. I went to see a musical on my night off from rehearsing for a musical. I enjoyed it, though I can't say it will rank as a favourite. On the journey home I listened to Phantom of the Opera - the original cast (I'm still not convinced I want to buy the movie soundtrack) and enjoyed it nearly as much as I did the show I'd just seen. You can't beat live theatre.

Bad behaviour
I can't say that I enjoy going to Sunderland. Especially to the Empire. The theatre itself is great and the shows they get are astounding. Miss Saigon is on there in a couple of weeks. I went all the way to Birmingham to see that last year. It's great to have it local. But Sunderland. I know one reader may be offended by this... M... don't worry... it's not that I'm saying Sunderland is a bad place. I just don't quite get it.

From the point of view of the theatre, I have come to the conclusion that the behaviour of the locals is not really very good. I know it's a British tradition to talk over the overture, and I wish it weren't, but it took about 10 minutes for the place to settle down properly after the show had started. In addition, tonight was a first for me, in that it was the first time I've ever seen a musical heckled. The behaviour seemed akin to that of a pantomime audience. This is not an isolated incident. The patrons of the Empire seem a hairy bunch of imbeciles at times.

I don't consider theatre to be something which should be reserved for the privileged class. Indeed, it's a good thing that there is somewhere you can see a top class touring production at an affordable price. However, I think people should learn manners and respect for their fellow audience members. God, I'm starting to sound like a grumpy old man. What we need is a war. National service, that'll sort some of them out!

Going Home
I took the Metro back from Sunderland to Newcastle and sat in the very front. I got to watch the track all the way back. At one stage, as the track bent out of my sight and we appeared to be heading for a brick wall, I thought how funny it would be if, as a wind up for the two or three people who can look out of the front window of the Metro, they built a false brick wall over the track and then proceeded to crash through it - a bit like Queen do on the video for "Breakthru". I don't know why I thought that, but it's here in black and white now, so make of it what you will.

In town I picked up the bike and cycled home. The cycling was harder. My muscles are now aching from yesterday's tapping. I've been making involuntary noises all day as I've sat down or stood up. Oh dear oh dear. Still, on the up-side, I'm about to go to bed. They say there's no rest for the wicked. Well, I'm about to get about 6 hours of the stuff.

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