Musicals have been my favourite kind of music since I was maybe around 10, maybe younger. I’ve never lived close enough to London to be a real theatre kid and see all the big shows but I’ve seen my favourites and they are among my best memories – almost entirely with my husband.
I’ve seen Chicago (with my aunt in the West End, starring the fabulous Maria Friedman as Roxy); Blood Brothers at Sunderland Empire with my best friend at school; then a whole new era began when my boyfriend (now better known as Beloved Husband) surprised me with a trip to London to see Miss Saigon, just a couple of days before it closed. Fittingly, this will be the first of my memory posts dedicated to a specific musical.
Why musicals? I love the drama, the vocals. One of my bucket list items is to sing ‘On My Own’ for an audience. The range is impressive – only in musicals could you find a hip-hop musical about one of America’s Founding Fathers alongside a faux-operatic show-piece about a guy in a mask living underneath a Paris theatre, prevented from going outside or mixing with other people (and don’t we all now feel his pain?) alongside a bouncy show for children retelling a random story from the Old Testament that somehow incorporates Elvis, country & western, Caribbean and more into one production.
When I was in primary school, and beginning to work out what I liked and didn’t like, I didn’t like pop music but felt that I should. Unfortunately I knew next to nothing about popular music and didn’t really want to listen to any. When I discovered musicals, I found my tribe. Towards the end of primary school, my parents started me in a local group – the Special Needs Unity Group, or SNUG, who put on revue shows featuring exclusively musical theatre songs every year (they were a group who took pride in including children and adults with special needs, and my brother, who has severe Down Syndrome, absolutely loved taking part). And so my internet in musicals was fanned into full-on obsession.
I never managed to get most of the ‘proper’ soundtracks but my dad would regularly buy me cassette tapes with covers of big musicals on, which I collected (and I still have my Miss Saigon one somewhere); he also found and regularly bought me a musicals collector’s magazine which gave away a CD of the featured show, again cover versions but I didn’t really care. I listened to these over and over, and spent hours on our family’s Acorn computer typing out the lyrics like a woman possessed. I had folders for genres/composers (Andrew Lloyd Webber featuring particularly heavily) and with them a folder for each show with a text file for each song. Probably one of the biggest corpora of musical theatre songs in the world – now this treasure is sadly lost to humanity forever and there’s precious little point me starting again, given things like Spotify and Genius. It kept me quiet for hours at the time, though. I have to give credit to my dad for these early supplies – he hates musicals but he always seemed to enjoy surprising me with a new cassette (or, drumroll, CD) and didn’t object hugely to me hogging his posh music system in the room where we had the computer so I could stop and start each song to catch a particularly tricky line.
SNUG introduced me to a whole new world of musicals through the songs we put on. As kids, we weren’t in most of them so during the shows I would stand backstage and watch from the wings – it was absolute magic. And I learned a fair bit about stagecraft, too. The big break came when we put on our first actual show rather than a revue – it was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and I had my first solo (as the brother’s wife who does a little bit in ‘One More Angel In Heaven’). I loved every minute. We also branched out a little and not only did shows at the local theatre but also put on fundraising performances at the Metrocentre, when that was still a thing local groups did and not just the Metrognomes – in the Town Square, outside Woolworths. After we’d done Joseph, we all had brightly coloured t-shirts in various hues and I may be biased but I think we did a cracking job and looked amazing. As I got older—I was part of SNUG from age 10 or 11 to 18—I took part in more pieces, and a hugely proud moment was when I was bold enough to ask about stepping into some of the adult parts, especially in ‘Rhythm of Life’ from Sweet Charity (which was a popular piece we routinely brought out at fundraisers) and a full solo song, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ from Blood Brothers.
When I met Beloved Husband, I corrupted him too so that he now loves musicals almost as much as me, even though he had a normal upbringing, bless him. And with that, I’ve come full circle to the beginning of this post – those amazing memories with him that I mentioned right at the start. Now we’re attempting to convince the children; Daniel isn’t falling for it, he’s a Proper Musician and prefers playing rock on his guitar (though he can’t resist ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ from Les Mis and although he’ll deny it vehemently, he’s a closet Hamilton fan too – he has ‘Guns and Ships’ NAILED) but Emily is swaying. There’s time to brainwash her fully, she’s young yet.