Diary of a Theatre Addict: Officiating at a New York wedding (and catching some shows while I was there!)

Mark ShentonInclude in homepage slide?, Thought of the dayLeave a Comment

wedding

I’ve had a bit of an epic week, more about even by my standards, dosage including three rail journeys, though one of them wasn’t for real but felt more real than almost anything I’ve ever done. The latter, of course, was You Me Bum Bum Train, a living installation of different experiences that are created for you and you alone to be at the centre of for a few minutes each before being moved on the next one in a completely riveting, frequently unnerving, and ultimately exhilarating ‘ride’ that involves a supporting cast of around 500 extras.

 

you-me-bum-bum-train-logoJournalists have to sign a (pretty heavy-handed) non-disclosure agreement before you can go on it, by which you swear not to reveal the contents of what happens across the course of the experience so that you don’t spoil the surprise for future participants. Mark Lawson, who took the ride straight after me the other night, suggested in his ‘Theatre Studies’ feature for The Guardian that under a strict reading of the document, I can’t even tell you that I went to the show (or, perhaps for absolute safety, “a show”), but a kindly official advised me that the restraining order relates only to “the content of scenes.” Addressed as “passengers”, we are weighed (don’t ask, not least because I am legally barred from telling you) and advised that if the experience ever becomes too much, we should place our hands in a T-shape and say “time out” three times, although it is unclear if this is part of a sponsorship deal with the free London listings magazine.

It makes it very hard indeed to write about, of course, beyond saying that you actually did it. (As well as Mark Lawson, Stephen Fry and his young husband were fellow travellers on my night) My attempt to describe the experience, but not the contents, for The Stage is here). As I put it,

Whereas other interactive shows like Punchdrunk work by creating snatches of scenarios that you might catch only fleetingly, the particular joy of Bum Bum Train is that it creates a series of fully self-contained worlds that are instantly recognisable and whose world you surrender to immediately and willingly (if sometimes not so winningly – there are some scenarios here that I hope never to have play out, and others that will inevitably do so for each and every one of us).

I also took two more standard train rides this week to Leeds and Scarborough respectively — but slightly crazily, they were not consecutive trips but separated by a day in London in between, so I was up and down to Yorkshire twice from King’s Cross! On Thursday I went to Leeds to review Opera North’s Kiss Me, Kate — the company’s latest excursion into the territory of musical theatre that opera companies around the world are making in an attempt to expand their audiences.  But it was thrilling to hear this show with its original orchestration newly reconstructed by conductor David Charles Abell and Seann Alderking. (My review for The Stage is here).

It came in the same week that English National Opera announced their own plans to follow up this year’s Sweeney Todd with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard next year, which seems a blatant act of both sell-out commercialism and compromise. Though it has an operatic scaled leading role, it is being performed by the rather thin-voiced Glenn Close, reprising her Broadway appearance in the show that she first performed twenty-one years ago. She may now be even more age-appropriate to play a washed up film actress whom the movies have left behind, but I hope her voice hasn’t been left behind, too.

Then I returned to Yorkshire yesterday to go to Scarborough, spiritual (as well as actual) home of Britain’s greatest living playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Though he long ago retired from the post of artistic director — and his successor Chris Monks is moving on soon, too, after 7 years in the post — he remains indelibly associated with the Stephen Joseph Theatre, where his playwrighting career began back in 1959 and has continued unbroken ever since.

This summer, as part of the theatre’s own 60th birthday celebrations, he has both revived his 1974 play Confusions there and premiered his latest play — his 79th — Hero’s Welcome there, and I saw both of them yesterday back-to-back. confusionsI’ve seen Confusions only once before in a London fringe production at the Union Theatre back in 2009, and it’s an utter joy: a second act scene set in at a village fete had me almost crying with laughter. Though Ayckbourn is a personal hero of mine, I’m afraid I was only able to give a muted welcome to Hero’s Welcome; though he’s tackling as ambitious themes, as ever,  the play — and I — seemed to fade in and out of interest, and had a climax that felt tacked on.

The week also took me to Hampstead for the opening night of Ian Kelly’s hilarious theatrical comedy Mr Foote’s Other Leg (my review for LondonTheatre.com is here); I’m sorry I was unable to catch Nell Gwynn, a second comedy about and set in the world of the theatre, open at Shakespeare’s Globe, but will try to do so before the end of its run, and I also caught up, belatedly, with the National’s spectacular new production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, another play about the redemptive power of theatre itself.

I also interviewed Matthew Bourne at his Islington home for a future issue of The Stage, had lunch with the producer Michael Harrison, and co-hosted a Critics’ Circle lunch in honour of Nick Hytner, as he was presented with its Annual Award for Services to the Arts, as I wrote about here).

It wasn’t all work and no play this week, though — I also saw Cynthia Erivo’s amazing late night farewell to London concert before she flew off to New York to begin rehearsals for the transfer of The Color Purple. She was joined by an astonishing parade of guests, including Scott Alan (with whom she has just recorded a brand-new album of his work, along with Oliver Tompsett), Richard Fleeshman, Alison Jiear and of course Dean John-Wilson.

And I also happily revisited Bend it Like Beckham – my fifth time and counting! – taking as my guests Scott Alan, Michael Feinstein and Michael’s husband Terrence. I can’t get enough of this great show. And it was wonderful to run into Nigel Lilley, the show’s fantastic musical director, before the show; when I told him I was bringing Michael Feinstein and he told me what a fan of his he was, I suggested that we all met afterwards, at which he was able to tell Michael how much he adored both his MGM album and Hugh Martin album. Tonight I’m seeing Michael himself perform at the Adelphi.
I’ve had a bit of an epic week, buy even by my standards, sildenafil including three rail journeys, though one of them wasn’t for real but felt more real than almost anything I’ve ever done. The latter, of course, was You Me Bum Bum Train, a living installation of different experiences that are created for you and you alone to be at the centre of for a few minutes each before being moved on the next one in a completely riveting, frequently unnerving, and ultimately exhilarating ‘ride’ that involves a supporting cast of around 500 extras.

 

you-me-bum-bum-train-logoJournalists have to sign a (pretty heavy-handed) non-disclosure agreement before you can go on it, by which you swear not to reveal the contents of what happens across the course of the experience so that you don’t spoil the surprise for future participants. Mark Lawson, who took the ride straight after me the other night, suggested in his ‘Theatre Studies’ feature for The Guardian that “under a strict reading of the document, I can’t even tell you that I went to the show (or, perhaps for absolute safety, ‘a show’), but a kindly official advised me that the restraining order relates only to ‘the content of scenes.’ Addressed as ‘passengers’, we are weighed (don’t ask, not least because I am legally barred from telling you) and advised that if the experience ever becomes too much, we should place our hands in a T-shape and say “time out” three times, although it is unclear if this is part of a sponsorship deal with the free London listings magazine.

It makes it very hard indeed to write about, of course, beyond saying that you actually did it. (As well as Mark Lawson, Stephen Fry and his young husband were fellow travellers on my night) My attempt to describe the experience, but not the contents, for The Stage is here). As I put it,

Whereas other interactive shows like Punchdrunk work by creating snatches of scenarios that you might catch only fleetingly, the particular joy of Bum Bum Train is that it creates a series of fully self-contained worlds that are instantly recognisable and whose world you surrender to immediately and willingly (if sometimes not so winningly – there are some scenarios here that I hope never to have play out, and others that will inevitably do so for each and every one of us).

I also took two more standard train rides this week to Leeds and Scarborough respectively — but slightly crazily, they were not consecutive trips but separated by a day in London in between, so I was up and down to Yorkshire twice from King’s Cross! On Thursday I went to Leeds to review Opera North’s Kiss Me, Kate — the company’s latest excursion into the territory of musical theatre that opera companies around the world are making in an attempt to expand their audiences.  But it was thrilling to hear this show with its original orchestration newly reconstructed by conductor David Charles Abell and Seann Alderking. (My review for The Stage is here).

It came in the same week that English National Opera announced their own plans to follow up this year’s Sweeney Todd with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard next year, which seems a blatant act of both sell-out commercialism and compromise. Though it has an operatic scaled leading role, it is being performed by the rather thin-voiced Glenn Close, reprising her Broadway appearance in the show that she first performed twenty-one years ago. She may now be even more age-appropriate to play a washed up film actress whom the movies have left behind, but I hope her voice hasn’t been left behind, too.

Then I returned to Yorkshire yesterday to go to Scarborough, spiritual (as well as actual) home of Britain’s greatest living playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Though he long ago retired from the post of artistic director — and his successor Chris Monks is moving on soon, too, after 7 years in the post — he remains indelibly associated with the Stephen Joseph Theatre, where his playwrighting career began back in 1959 and has continued unbroken ever since.

This summer, as part of the theatre’s own 60th birthday celebrations, he has both revived his 1974 play Confusions there and premiered his latest play — his 79th — Hero’s Welcome there, and I saw both of them yesterday back-to-back. confusionsI’ve seen Confusions only once before in a London fringe production at the Union Theatre back in 2009, and it’s an utter joy: a second act scene set in at a village fete had me almost crying with laughter. Though Ayckbourn is a personal hero of mine, I’m afraid I was only able to give a muted welcome to Hero’s Welcome; though he’s tackling as ambitious themes, as ever,  the play — and I — seemed to fade in and out of interest, and had a climax that felt tacked on.

The week also took me to Hampstead for the opening night of Ian Kelly’s hilarious theatrical comedy Mr Foote’s Other Leg (my review for LondonTheatre.com is here); I’m sorry I was unable to catch Nell Gwynn, a second comedy about and set in the world of the theatre, open at Shakespeare’s Globe, but will try to do so before the end of its run, and I also caught up, belatedly, with the National’s spectacular new production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, another play about the redemptive power of theatre itself.

I also interviewed Matthew Bourne at his Islington home for a future issue of The Stage, had lunch with the producer Michael Harrison, and co-hosted a Critics’ Circle lunch in honour of Nick Hytner, as he was presented with its Annual Award for Services to the Arts, as I wrote about here).

It wasn’t all work and no play this week, though — I also saw Cynthia Erivo’s amazing late night farewell to London concert before she flew off to New York to begin rehearsals for the transfer of The Color Purple. She was joined by an astonishing parade of guests, including Scott Alan (with whom she has just recorded a brand-new album of his work, along with Oliver Tompsett), Richard Fleeshman, Alison Jiear and of course Dean John-Wilson.

And I also happily revisited Bend it Like Beckham – my fifth time and counting! – taking as my guests Scott Alan, Michael Feinstein and Michael’s husband Terrence. I can’t get enough of this great show. And it was wonderful to run into Nigel Lilley, the show’s fantastic musical director, before the show; when I told him I was bringing Michael Feinstein and he told me what a fan of his he was, I suggested that we all met afterwards, at which he was able to tell Michael how much he adored both his MGM album and Hugh Martin album. Tonight I’m seeing Michael himself perform at the Adelphi.
I got back yesterday morning from a week in New York, visit but was too busy both there and since getting back to post my usual weekly update till now! The trip was squeezed in-between my weekly teaching commitments at ArtsEd — I left for Heathrow direct from Chiswick, visit web which is where ArtsEd is handily located for such quick escapes, viagra buy after an afternoon teaching last Monday, and then returned yesterday in time to head direct to the school from the airport again to teach again yesterday afternoon!

weddingAnd on Sunday, of course, I also ran close to the wire, since that was the reason I was in New York last week in the first place — to officiate at the wedding of my friends Dana P Rowe and Andrew Scharf (pictured either side of me in artwork created by Thomas Mann), that took place that morning; but we had to fly home that night from New York so had to leave the reception by 3.30pm to get home, get our bags, and head to JFK by subway for an 8pm flight!

Still, we obviously made it. And I can’t say what a profound honour it was to be invited to officiate at a wedding in this way. Dana, a musical theatre composer who I first met back in 1997 when he came to London for pre-production meetings for his show The Fix that was being premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in a production that was directed by Sam Mendes and co-produced with Cameron Mackintosh, has been a friend for 18 years now. As Sondheim’s lyrics for I’m Still Here have it, “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all/ And, my dear, I’m still here/ Plush velvet sometimes/ Sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I’m here.” Change the ‘I’m’ to ‘we’re’, and that’s Dana and me.

I calculate that I’ve been in five major relationships during that time, including (for the last seven years, my husband Mark), and Dana has been in three, including the man who became his husband on Sunday, Andrew Scharf. It took both of us a long time to find our own soul-mates in love, but we’ve been soul-mates in friendship for a long time.

I couldn’t have been happier when Dana P (as I always call him!) met Andrew four years ago. He’d just had some extremely bum times, and Mark and I had holidayed earlier that summer with Dana, on his own, in Provincetown. The following summer, Mark and I got married — and Dana brought Andrew to the event, before all four of us went on a group holiday to P-town as part of our honeymoon, and did so again the year after in 2014. It was on that trip that they excitedly shared some news with us: sitting on a little bench on Commercial Street, near the Purple Feather ice cream and chocolate parlour, Andrew had proposed — and Dana had accepted!

dana-andrew-landon-me-Fast forward to Sunday, and — after getting ordained through the Universal Life Church a few months ago, and subsequently making a group trip to City Hall to get me officially registered as an officiant —  I was able to marry them to each other. I quoted John Dempsey’s lyrics to The Witches of Eastwick that Dana P wrote the music for in which the three title characters share their romantic aspirations: “Make him mine, make him mine/ Make him handsome as the devil/ yet perfectly divine. /Make him mine./The ultimate companion,/ The ideal design/ All manner of man in one man/ Make him mine.” And on Sunday, I told the gathered throng of family (including Dana’s adult son and daughter, and his two grandchildren by his daughter) and friends, “Today these handsome devils who are both perfectly divine are going to fulfil that as they become the other’s ultimate companion: all manner of man in one man for each other. (The grooms are pictured above with Dana P’s son Landon behind him and me behind Andrew).

It feels anti-climactic in the circumstances to talk about the various shows I shoe-horned into my visit, though I wouldn’t be a theatre addict if I hadn’t crammed them in — and I did, seven of them! Five were Broadway shows — three of which I’d seen before, the Tony winning Fun Home, the Tony missing Something Rotten (apart from one for featured actor Christian Borle), and Les Miserables to catch Alfie Boe joining the show). The other two off-Broadway, including Daddy Long Legs that’s now at the Davenport Theatre on W45th Street and I’d previously seen when it played a season at London’s St James.

Arts-Ed-Scott-AlanBut these were just diversions, not the main event. And another thing to look forward to when I got back was ArtsEd itself, where I’d persuaded my friend Scott Alan — who laid on that fantastic birthday party for me last month that I wrote about here — to come and share his experiences as a New York songwriter with them. Many of my students (pictured left with Scott on the front row, and me in the back row) are huge fans — one told me at the end of the class what an idol he was to him, and Scott duly filmed a video message for his sister!