Saturday, 31 January 2015

Once the musical, twice so far...

It’s funny how things happen sometimes. Early 2014, I was walking through London’s Piccadilly area with my best friend who loves musicals and we were talking about shows on our "to-see" list. Well, I say our list, he loves musicals, I am quite the opposite. Apart from the Lion King, I’m not fond of shows where people sing instead of talk and are often quite cheesey. I’m not insulting Broadway or the West End - I appreciate the immense talent and admire the production, but musicals, they’re not really my thing. Anyway, back to the point... passing a poster for “Once the Musical” (then starring David Hunter) my friend says “Oh!! You should see that. You’ll like it. It’s about a musician. He’s Irish! And he’s a busker! Ohh and he plays the guitar!! You’ll love it - perfect for you." I won’t add the part where he totally ruined the plot for me, but aside from that I was intrigued.

“Perfect” for me was alluding to (1) my like for all things Irish, including a certain boyband/solo artist (2) my growing music appreciation in recent years of guitar-playing male singer-songwriters and (3) my friendship with a couple of Australian buskers/musicians. This did sound good.

A few weeks later, I read the headline “Ronan Keating to make West End debut in Once the Musical”. I had to do a double-take. Was I seeing things? The very same Irish solo artist I mentioned above was going to take on the lead role in the show that was apparently perfect for me. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head in disbelief at the coincidence!

I decided I wanted to see Once before Ronan was in it. Not because I didn’t have faith in his ability, though that probably comes into any fan’s mind when their “idol” tries something new in full view of critics and critical public. More that I wanted to see the show for what it was, not just its rather handsome popstar male lead. I wanted to see it without bias (and without distraction!) so I could talk about it to friends without the “oh you would say that” assumptions that would surely come flying my way.

August 2014, Thursday matinee, I’d been told to go inside the theatre half an hour early for an “additional treat”. From the outside, the Phoenix theatre is small and unobvious - you can easily walk past it without realising. Small but beautiful as a lot of London theatres are, the interiors take you back in time with their intricate gold painted carvings, stairwells, mirrors and chandeliers.

The additional treat (this won’t be a spoiler for most) is that for 30 minutes before the show, you can go up onto the stage and buy a drink from the onstage bar. While you’re there a group of cast members set up centre stage, and, well, start a good old Irish sing-along amongst themselves, with guitars, drums and more! What this tries to achieve is simple and certainly works. When we walked up from our seats onto the stage, we were the first two up - others looked up at us slightly confused. Why are these girls up on stage? Are they press? What’s going on? But soon more people joined us.

If you do go onstage, take a moment or two to look out at the audience. So it’s a little intimidating, but who cares, you don’t know the faces looking at you, and they don’t know you. And the spotlights are so bright you can’t see much anyway. But for that moment in those lights, you can imagine what it’s like for the actors, what it’s like to treading world famous West end boards. You’re standing on a world-famous stage, that people come from all over the globe, literally, to see performances on.

The audience is ushered back to their seats and the show begins.

My friend was absolutely right. I did love it, from beginning to end. The show stands out and succeeds in its simplicity.  Without giving it all away, there are no huge rolling set changes with grand backgrounds - just a few objects moved around and you’re taken from one scene to another.

The story is heart-warming and funny with more comedy than I expected, many laugh out loud moments and thankfully so, as there are a few sad moments too. I felt completely drawn into the story for the entire duration.

Once "the musical" is more a play with songs in it than a musical and as the story involves musicians making music, the songs seem more natural. Another stand out difference is that there is no orchestra, instead the cast play all the instruments. Again it would be a shame to give away too much as this makes up such a big part of the show’s charm. It is so subtly and cleverly done - I was fascinated throughout.

Okay, I loved it, you get it. What about Ronan then?

December 2014, I went to see Once for the second time, this time with Ronan playing lead. I am very glad (relieved!) I enjoyed the show so much the first time as I was genuinely excited to be seeing it again. Knowing the role he was playing, I could see how it'd would work. I was also looking forward to seeing how he differed from the previous lead.

I am an honest fan, if I don't like something, I don't pretend to. I know Ronan can sing live, but I was nervous about seeing him acting live on stage. Proudly I can say I think he is truly brilliant and completely natural in the role. Within minutes of the show starting, I'd forgotten that I was watching a popstar I've liked for 20 years - many times I actually had to remind myself it was him up there!

What surprised me and may surprise some others is that you don't hear Ronan singing the show's songs in a Ronan voice we all know from the radio - that would have been easier. Aside from the small feat of having to play the guitar throughout, he has learnt the songs as they were written, taking on a different tone and style from what we know entirely. That really impressed me.

Credit here is also due to the rest of the cast  - given I'd seen the show before just recently, and being a fan of Mr Keating, I could have easily been fixated on Ronan for the whole time, but I found myself completely drawn into the entire story all over again. Rather than following Ronan wherever he was on stage, I was watching each of the cast, their expressions and interactions with each other, even when they weren't at the forefront of the story. I laughed at the jokes again, and yes, the sad bits got me, again.

So to end this rather long rambley entry/review, I'd like to congratulate the entire Once cast on a brilliant, lovely, simple, wonderful and powerful show - it will be sad to see it leave the West End at the end of March, but it is guaranteed to go out on a high for which the cast should be proud. And perhaps I will see it once, or twice more, before it goes...

If you like theatre, why not check out Once the Musical before it leaves.

Official trailer:

Poster images and video copyright of Once The Musical 

Ps If you find the ticket prices too expensive (which, to be honest, they really are) keep an eye on the ATG page a few days before, as the tiers drop in price, sometimes quite significantly, including for fantastic stall seats!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

"I really should see more shows...."

I've never been a big fan of musicals. Growing up I watched the occasional kids' musical movie, but Disney animations aside, I don't list any musicals within my all time favourites. People find it hard to believe that I've never seen The Sound Of Music. (Yes, never) I think I've seen parts of it, but never beginning to end  - apart from the Queen's Speech, my Christmases are not marked by scenes of rolling hills and political messages.

London's West End is world renowned for its stage productions, rivaling that of Broadway across the pond. Many times the conversation comes up about how "we really should see more shows.. tourists come from all over the world to see these, yet we hardly go to any". In my teens I saw Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat purely because a boyband member I liked was playing lead role. Hmm.

When I landed a job working in Covent Garden, at the heart of London's Theatreland, I was surrounded by numerous theatres within a stone's throw of the office door. Within a few minutes walk, more historic theatres, more glitzy lights, more post-dinner pre-theatre excited crowds filled the streets. Yet I can count the number of shows I saw in my five full years there, on one hand. (Yes, terrible, I know)

I saw Mamma Mia! and cringed throughout at its hideous Abba-tastic cheese - that put me off for a long time. Chicago with its scantily clad women and American accents I couldn't decipher didn't convince me either. Though on the flipside, The Lion King was spectacular, Sister Act was fun and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert had me smiling all throughout - though, this was largely down to the Australian theme. Ghost impressed me with its staging, if not much else.

I'd like to think I'm an open-minded person and having enjoyed some of the shows I've seen, I'd like to see more but the ticket prices can be hard to justify - upto £100 per ticket for some, or cheaper seats with often compromised views and the rest. Then comes the problem of convincing someone to go along, which at that price, is not easy. I understand shows are costly to produce and run, but high pricing is making theatre trips exclusive rather than inclusive to the majority - it is unsurprising London theatres are struggling.

This Summer, I spent two days in blazing hot London sunshine on Trafalgar Square, in the audience of a free London event called "West End Live" - a showcase on a giant stage of around 40 West End musicals, including favourites from the past and new upcoming shows. I am surprised at quite how much I enjoyed it and thinking about it now is still making me smile. The atmosphere on the Square was fantastic, the crowd friendly (mostly) and the performances were great. I liked the the way it gave the audience a taster of so many shows that are running, showing the range of themes - from 60s and 70s music, kids' stories with hilarious adult undertones in the lyrics, and more.

I could say the event entirely changed my viewpoint on musicals, but instead it separated the "I really don't think I could see two hours of that show" from the "I really want to see that now", mainly for shows I had an inkling before that I'd like.

London as a city is intimidating and overwhelming in a way that makes "locals" feel bad for not being embedded in its heaving richness of culture and arts. But I'm beginning to realise you should do something because you want to, not because everyone else is doing it. Sounds so simple doesn't it?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

What's in a name?

I always envisaged my blog would have a significant name to draw people in - relevant, meaningful words, lyrics, a quote, that kind of thing, describing what would of course become a treasure trove of amazing writing. 

Thinking of a name is partly why it's taken me so long to start this whole thing. Just some I considered over the years:

"Living In The Moment"  - a happy, upbeat Jason Mraz song I use on many occasions to lift myself up when I need to. But to anyone who doesn't know the reference, it would imply awesomely exciting things about living life to the fullest, jumping out of planes, that sort of thing. Plus the fact I may write about things from years ago isn't quite living in the moment!

"There's Something About..." - I pondered this for a long time, as a title and the start of every entry. A handy way of allowing me to talk about anything and everything. But there was just something about that title that didn't stick.

"The Rock and the Tide" almost made the final cut - the title of one of my absolute favourite albums, by American musician Joshua Radin - an album that came about in my life at a time where not one but many of the songs and lyrics just seemed to ring very true.  The title also coincidentally and quite aptly describes a country I hold close to my heart, Australia. This pretty much sealed the deal until a few weeks ago, when I went to the cinema...

Based on a true story, the movie "Tracks" follows the journey of a young girl who decides to walk halfway across Australia with only her dog and three camels for company. I found the film really moving, simply done but so effective. This may sound dramatic, but I felt like I could relate to it. Not literally, of course - as much as I love Australia, I have never felt the urge to take on an extraordinary feat with four-legged creatures as companions. The sweeping arid landscapes, sights and sounds of Central and Western Australia (which I've been lucky to experience in more luxurious ways than the film) and the characters brought back so many memories. The journey, the independence and loneliness, the stepping out into the unknown, the achievement. Achievement as I mentioned in my first entry that we don't give ourselves enough credit for - we sweep things under the carpet as small and insignificant when really we should be beaming with pride and telling the world. 

I ambled distractedly home from the cinema that evening in autopilot mode, lots of images and thoughts going through my head. I probably smiled at everyone on the way home. Smiling? In London? She must be mad.

But my mind was ticking away. All I wanted to do that night was somehow magically put down every good experience, adventure and achievement down "on paper". And I wanted it all to have a name. 

"I can't call my blog Tracks, can I? Hmm. I guess it's cooler than Footprints..."

"If anyone's seen the film they'll expect my experiences to be that dramatic."

"What about something implying achievement a smaller scale... Tiny Tracks? No that sounds like a baby's toy, or worse, a baby blog."

"Small Steps. No, no Neil Armstrong quotes. Or giant leaps."

"Wait, actually, tracks is good. I like how it subtly relates to music, and there will definitely be a lot of music stuff on my blog. Ok.. keep thinking..."

"Big universe, small achievements, little things... "

"Little Tracks? Little Tracks... That's it! Little Tracks."

So, here we have it. My blog is finally born, with a name, a significant name at that, relating to exactly what I want it to be.

Little Tracks. Travel. Music. And everything in between.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Rock And The Tide

"I'm always the last one, never ready for the fast ones, well it's time to change.

So we make our plans, set our sites on a new land, one that's kind of strange. 

You say, someday, we'll know where to go but we don't know..."

I wonder if musicians ever realise quite how much a song or an album can hold significant meaning to people. I guess that's why fans frequently gush excitedly about how music has touched their souls.

I didn't understand that before, now I think I do... now I get it.  Anyway, one day soon I will write about that topic and about "The Rock and The Tide" some more, giving it the attention (I feel) it deserves...but for now back to blog names..

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Welcome to my retrospect

Despite good intentions and enjoying creative writing, I've never been good at keeping a diary or blog. Partly laziness, though more not finding the hours in a day, or energy at the end of a long, busy and eventful day worth writing about, to sit at a screen or hold a pen to write something legible. There is proof of this, in the many little notepads of incomplete scrawl I still have. I wouldn't be able to tell you what the words say, perhaps I should have learnt shorthand as a teenager.

I also never thought I'd ever do anything in life worth telling other people about and I'm yet to decide on where I sit on the debate about whether blogs are self-indulgent. Though the former wins over the latter here. 

Life in all its turbulence with the bad times has sent a lot of good experiences my way, a lot of great experiences in fact. Things I have shared with others and things I've done on my own which no one knows about, nor will they know about unless I find a way of sharing. I love socialising and talking to people though I'll never be someone who drops in "There was this one time in..." stories, unless it somehow comes up in conversation.

More and more recently I find myself realising we need to give ourselves credit for things we do and achieve every day, rather than putting them down as insignificant when they are a big deal. Life is too short to worry about negative opinions of peers. Plus, with the age of travel and the internet, sharing and appreciation doesn't have to be limited to immediate social circles, instead open to friends (and strangers) everywhere.

I don't think this will be a regular or frequently updated blog -I'm sure by starting it, I'll tempt fate and nothing fun will happen for a while! Rather than always being an "in the moment" blog, I envisage this as a place where when I have some time, I'll write about "this one time in...". I'd love you to stick around and read the posts, as and when they appear - if I know you in person, I won't judge you for not being an avid follower of my ramble. Sometimes I don't follow it either!  

Posts might end up being short and slightly miscellaneous, others longer and much more reminiscent... who knows, some may even sound familiar, almost as if you were there, some might say. Let's see how it goes.

Welcome to my retrospect.

Post coming soon: What's in a name?