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Saturday, April 23

Waking up twice, we eventually managed to get out of the house and we headed, without breakfast, to London. We had some idea of going to see a show. I had read, the previous day, that it was Lee Evans's last day in The Producers and I rather fancied seeing him complete his part in what is a fantastic show.

En route to London, I rang up to activate my new Barclaycard. The old one was broken. It's a chip and PIN card, though I'd never been asked to key in the PIN, but the chip had fallen out. This was giving me some grief when I tried to use it in some places. So, I'd ordered a replacement card, which had arrived but needed to be activated. I rang the number from the passenger seat of the car to London. It's good to be driven around. The woman at the other end of the Barclaycard services line had to verify that I was who I said I was. She asked me a couple of security questions, like the last 3 digits of my home phone number. Then she asked me my star sign. Star sign! It's hard to take someone seriously when they do that. Surely she should ask my date of birth - she could work it out from that!? No, star sign. Pisces. I also offered my favourite colour - Blue. I don't actually have a favourite colour. If I did, it probably wouldn't be blue. Perhaps Cadbury purple - it's a good colour.

We parked in Pimlico and managed to get the tube, which was suffering a delay through the sheer capacity of travellers (and the need not to have so many people on the platform that they knock each other into the rails). We ended up in Leicester Square at about 2pm. I had, as a precaution, brought a reasonable quantity of cash with me, knowing from past experience that some of the cheap ticket booths deal only in cash.

We wandered up to the booth I've used before. It was going to be a toss up between Mary Poppins and The Producers. I would like to see
Mary Poppins, but I wasn't desperate. It doesn't seem to be a show that's going away in the near future. The Producers on the other hand presented more of a limited opportunity. Only two shows left with Lee Evans in it. After a few enquiries, we found out that we could get pretty good seats for the matinee (in half an hour) or balcony for the evening (oooh). Ms Poppins had some matinee availability... but I was starting to have a specific desire - The Producers were calling. This seemed to be a good plan for my companion and so a few seconds were all we required to become proud owners of:
  1. Two tickets for the show
  2. A sudden urge to know where the hell the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is
  3. A rush to get to the aforementioned theatre, which is actually on Catherine Street (well, both, probably)
I turned on my theatre radar. I've been to the Theatre Royal before. The first time I found it myself. I went to see My Fair Lady there in January 2003. This event probably altered the course of my life quite significantly. However, all events have some effect, some individually, some cumulatively, so let's not get too out of perspective about this. On the first occasion, I'd guided myself by some means or other. The second visit to this theatre, I was taken there by a friend. We were watching The Producers during its preview week. We arrived a little late and I wasn't keen to miss the overture this second time. So, I used the theatre radar and started guessing the route. It's somewhere near Covent Garden... probably.

As it happens, it's really not difficult to get there. I took what I thought was a wrong turning, but I knew the direction of the theatre, so reckoned I might be able to correct it. Just as I thought I was going to have to ask for directions from some passer by or other, I was faced by the theatre. I'd taken us straight there by the most efficient route. I must admit that I felt somewhat smug... even though it was an accident.

Not only were we in plenty of time for the overture, but we also had time to buy a programme and a pre-match drink. I quite like the circularity of seeing a show multiple times, when it's opening, and when, in some ways, it's closing. When I first saw the show, it had both Nathan Lane and Lee Evans in it. I welcomed Lee to this particular West End stage (along with the rest of the audience) and now I was to bid him farewell. I felt much the same way about Jerry Springer: The Opera. I saw it open and then I saw it close. It feels nice and complete. Of course The Producers is due to run a lot longer than Lee Evans's contract. It's a smashing show.

Watching The Producers
A show is never going to be completely as funny the second time... when you know all of the jokes. Equally, as I mentioned back in my March 19th entry, comedy feels funnier when there are lots of people around you laughing. This particular performance of the show was not as much of a quasi-religious experience as the show I witnessed back in October. It was, however, still one of the finest musicals I have ever seen.

A few things contributed to the slight reduction in the energy levels in the room. Nathan Lane is quite simply marvellous in the role of Max and Brad Oscar, who was very good, looked like he had to try hard to be Max, where Nathan just breezed through it. It's not experience, it's the charisma of the stars involved. Brad Oscar has played Max many many times. Nathan Lane is, quite simply, a god. Lee Evans is incredibly funny, but his performance as Leo Bloom was also different to the previous occasion. A couple of things had happened. Firstly, he was playing it a little more like Lee Evans, than Leo Bloom. Secondly, his voice sounded tired. He wasn't giving it a powerful blast. Fair enough, it was his last day and he still had an evening performance to do. I know how he must have felt. Literally. He still gave an outstanding performance that made me laugh very hard. Finally, the reason that the show didn't fly as much as it had done in October was the audience.

I don't believe you can blame an audience for the success or failure of a show. Not as such. However, some audiences are more likely to be entertained than others. In this case, the audience were a slightly sleepy matinee crowd. I don't know that they were out for anything except to get some entertainment in the middle of their day. A nighttime crowd, who have made the show the focus of their entire night out, would probably give more (see later). In addition, a crowd of fans of the show, who are all excited would make more of whatever is placed before them. This audience weren't like that. The audience in October were clearly excited at the early chance to see the show. I know because I was one of them. I'd seen the movie. I knew a load of musicals trivia and Mel Brooks references. I was going to get it all, and I did. This audience weren't so quick. But...

The show turned the audience from a quiet group into a sea of giggles. By the time Springtime for Hitler finished, there was not a person in the room who wasn't hooting. It hadn't been too slow a progression from cold to enraptured and the show really flew along. Performances of the principals had all developed and credit is due to James Dreyfuss's arm for being part of one of the best visual gags of all time.

I would have liked to have grabbed the audience early on and tell them to pay attention and laugh since this is possibly the best thing they'll see all year. By the end, I didn't need to. However, it hadn't been a consistently roof raising performance and I would have to say that I wasn't of a mind to go for a standing ovation. It was interesting watching one or two people on their haunches, ready to join one if one started. It's almost like people want to think that they might have been part of a standing ovation - like it's a bonus for going out. I think you'll know when it's time to applaud on your feet. I also think that the evening show would probably have gotten a well-deserved ovation.

For some reason there were a number of shenanigans going on during this performance. A few items of props were dropped by the chorus and rescued. There was one scene in which the three principals of Brad Oscar, Lee Evans and Leigh Zimmerman ended up giggling and having to regain composure. Leigh Zimmerman even dropped out of character at one stage in the ad-libbing. They were messing about a bit. The audience came with. I'm not sure exactly what happened - I think someone fluffed a line and they all got giggly. Later on, in the courtroom scene, all of the jury had cakes. Brad Oscar commented "Nice spread" when he saw the cakes and Lee Evans, when offered a cake, tried to take one and then bantered with the chorus member who denied it to him - "I'm not allowed a cake?"... before he sang his song, he picked up a spare one and licked the icing off. Don't ask me what the cast were up to. It was funny, so that's good. Perhaps they were toasting his departure, or perhaps it was someone's birthday. In short, the entertainment was not just for the audience's benefit. Whatever, it still worked really well, and I was glad to see it a second time.

We were in the 3rd row of the Upper Circle. Good seats. There are better. I want to see the show again - this time from the middle of the stalls. It will happen. Leo and Max have been replaced now. I think that John Gordon Sinclair, from Gregory's girl, may do a good job. Perhaps I'll go along and see.

After the show
Well, we'd not had breakfast. We'd skipped lunch to go to a show. We'd not passed Go and we'd not collected 200. Hunger had set in. One trip to Pizza Express was in order. It was a good trip and the hunger was laid to rest.

The question is, what can one do in London at 6.30? That was about the time we finished at Pizza Express. What sort of entertainment is on offer? I know... why don't we go and see a musical? I believe that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is quite good. I know that because I've seen it. I also knew that my companion is quite a fan of the Sherman and Sherman songs. I say that. I think she'd say that she likes the movies of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang... it probably matters not one bit to her who wrote them, so long as they're good. I'm the geek. The point is that I thought she might enjoy Chitty, provided that we could get good seats and that she hadn't run out of theatrical patience.

I suggested we wander over to another particular ticket booth in Leicester Square to see what was on offer. Maybe go to the theatre, or maybe do something else. Despite the fact that last time I saw I then went on to see 3, yes THREE, more shows, I wasn't so obsessively compelled to jump straight into another theatre.

They had cheap stalls seats for Chitty at the ticket booth. It was a sign from the Gods of musical theatre. I bought the tickets and it was time for act two of theatre finding.

Chitty Chitty
Now, unlike the Theatre Royal, of which I had a vague idea of its location, I knew exactly where the London Palladium was. I knew sort of exactly how to get there. I knew that if you put me on Regent Street or Oxford Street, I'd be able to get there immediately, and I knew the direction in which it was located. Surely we'd get there in no time. I put my theatre location radar on and we set off.

We went to Piccadilly Circus, took a shortcut through Soho, where some women might call to you - "Hey baby, I just want to talk to you", but you can bet that it's not conversation that they're after. We hit some other streets and then got vaguely lost. I had a special plan, though. If we got a bit lost, I only needed to find Oxford Street or Regent Street, which were straight ahead or to the left if you kept going long enough. We wandered in approximately a good direction and eventually found a map near Carnaby Street. The map suggested that a quick nip down this alley might bring us to somewhere goodish. So, we headed for somewhere goodish and I expected to land on Oxford Street. In fact, I did better than that. I landed us in front of a big sign for the show. We'd found the back of the Palladium. I say that I landed us somewhere - we weren't flying. Let's save the flying for later on.

So, we were at another theatre and taking our seats for another show. There seems to be a trend on the West End at the moment. A show needs a star. When I first saw Chitty we had Michael Ball as Caractacus Potts, Anton Rodgers as Grandpa and the heartiest of hearties, Brian Blessed as Baron Bomburst. This time around, Potts was played by Brian "It's a puppet" Conley, The Child Catcher was Alvin Stardust and there was even Christopher Biggins as Bomburst. One of the baddies was played by the guy who played Mike in The Young Ones and other members of the cast were vaguely knowable. Some audiences like to applaud people they know. When I first saw The Producers pretty much everyone got a round of applause just for getting on stage (though not this time). What was going to happen during the show.

I have to say, I wondered how Brian Conley would fair on the West End stage. Could he follow Michael Ball's insistently sweet voice (which is the voice I think of for those songs, which I've listened to countless times from the cast album). I also wondered whether a second show could follow the one we'd just seen.

Knowing the original production quite well from the CD and from seeing it, I noticed quite a lot of changes to it. It has been nipped and tucked and the baddies have been simplified. They also lost the rather nice ensemble introduction. The show was neater without it, but I missed it. The audience were having a great time. There were children and there were plenty of adults. The adults had come to see three things:

1. The stars
2. Whether the production could recreate the bits that
they remembered from the movie
3. The car

The car is the star of this show. It makes no difference who plays the roles. The car is what people have come to see. Brian Conley got a massive round of applause for being on stage. Someone saw him early and started a single applaud (applause?). He also deserved the applause - eventually - as he turned out a solid and charmin performance. I so wanted to shout out "it's a puppet"... but didn't. The show got laughs and the children in the audience were well behaved. The children on the stage were excellent, accurate and confident (if only children in amateur productions could be consistently as good!). When the car appeared... the audience exploded in joy. Yes, the car got the biggest round of applause. When it floated, they went again. When it flew... well, I think some people nearly flew with it. All this despite the fact that people have bought tickets knowing that the car flies... and despite the fact that you can see how it's done pretty easily. It doesn't matter. People pay to suspend disbelief and enjoy the fantasy. And we enjoyed ourselves.

Again, though, it was messing about night. Chorus members dropped stuff and it had to be rescued. There was a bit of ad-libbing between Christopher Biggins and his opposite number Louise Gold, which started from her broken earring and graduated to full on messing about. Quite where the improvisation and the prepared comedy moments were divided was anyone's guess. Again, the audience went along for the ride and it was great. Possibly my favourite moment in the show, though, was when someone delivered a rather simple pun on the word "bonnet". A small child, sitting somewhere in the stalls, got this relatively unfunny joke and laughed promptly and unreservedly in such a pure and joyful manner that the entire audience followed. The joke might have gotten a titter otherwise, but this child's joy brought a theatre into a big laugh. That's the magic of theatre.

After the second show
No more shows. No way. Time for home. We had a tube to catch and then a late night drive. This is what we did. It was a good ride home and quite a late night. It had been one hell of a day and we needed a good night's sleep to recover. I think we'd fit at least two weekends' worth of entertainment into that one day. Good work!

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