Today we had sun. It was a glorious day and we found ourselves standing in the shades at the Criterion Theatre stage door, which is very conveniently placed in a sort of arcade. We stood there waiting for an hour. We should have enjoyed the precious rays of sunshine, but there you go.
He arrived at about 1pm and looked exquisitely yummy (see pictures). He said hi to everyone and that he had no idea, where he was going and unisono we all replied “there!” and pointed to the stage door. We must have looked like a mini musical number. Also we were a bit concerned like we were sending him away in hindsight. When he went in we went round the building and started the decline towards the stalls of the theatre as it’s underground. The auditorium itself was incredibly beautiful and it is a boutique theatre if ever there was one. Just small and pretty.
The stage was prepared with two chairs, a small table and some water. Quite a number of people had shown. Michael and his host came on stage to great applause, took a seat and it was he himself who poured in the water for both of them.
His interviewer was Mark Lawson from BBC Radio 4. He said how Imelda had been on this stage ten days ago and said how she had been very complimentary about Michael and what he had to say about her. “Of all the leading ladies I worked with, she is definitely one of them!” came the giggled reply. On a more serious note he said how funny she was, how dedicated, hard-working and how she pushed him as an actor. It was evident that there is a great mutual respect between these two and apparently a deep understanding, also the same humour.
They then talked about Sweeney being very much Michael’s project to which he agreed and said that he otherwise would never have been cast. He knows the business and he knows that he had made choices in his career that have not appealed to the high brow ranks in the business. He did things that were too commercial for these people, but he believes in commercial theatre and he just knew that nobody would have thought that he was born to play Sweeney, but he said that he believes he was (and we agreed whole heartedly).
Later on in the Question and Answer section the possible Broadway transfer for Sweeney came up and he confirmed that it was something that is being looked into, but basically depends on whether they can make it work financially and also he would want the entire ensemble to go, which might proof tricky with American Equity, but there is a way around this problem. Getting the amount of money required for this kind of production over there is not easy. He asked whether anyone of us would get out the check book out now. Sadly no secret millionaires in the audience. He said that they just about made the West End production work. So fingers crossed for them to get the necessary funding. He stressed again though that it would be a limited run, if it happened.
He was then asked to describe his average day. Obviously it’s training for the Marathon he joked, but no, he has no opportunity to do much else apart from Sweeney. He gets up, reads three papers, listens to the news, walks the dogs, has a nap at noon, watches some telly, on Thursdays he has massages and his Sundays are off. He said that he needed 24 hours of doing nothing, which is why he is not doing the radio show at the moment, but he loves it and hopes he will return to it in January! Of course this depends on whatever else is happening in his life then. He has said that he wants to record an album, then tour in late spring, early summer and he has a new project, which he is excited about. A show he wants to bring to the West End and is just busy acquiring the rights for the show. Naturally he could not and would not say what it was. Even though Mr. Lawson very cleverly kept asking for clues until Michael desperately begged him at asking questions, because he is so bad at keeping secrets (as we know from previous interviews). So it looks like he will be busy, but he said it might not come to fruition after all. You never know with these things.
It was very interesting to hear that he had had problems with his voice during the rehearsal period in Chichester and that a cold went around in the cast did not help obviously. The rehearsals for Epiphany were quite tough. He had to find the physicality of the piece and shouted a lot, then he had to change the register, but still had the big high notes. So it was very demanding and when the show started he had no time to recover. So this had been a real problem and he was desperate not to miss out on any shows during the Chichester run and we know he did not in the end, but it was a close call. He said that he had feared these problems would return with the West End transfer, but now that it was there everything was in place, he was experiencing no problems and he feels he never sung it better (too true!).
Mr. Lawson asked it Opera singers are too precious about their voice. “Absolutely!” came the instant reply. Michael explained how Opera singers when they faced doing a musical freaked completely at the prospect of doing 8 shows a week, whereas for a musical singer doing opera like he had done with Kismet and Patience is no problem whatsoever, because you keep having three to four days a week off. And he actually said, he thought he would love it, but the downside was, that after all this free time, every performance felt like opening night all over again. He said actually it’s the same for him and Sweeney on Mondays, which we thought was quite amazing, but could relate to.
Naturally Kismet came up and we all had such a laugh, but the audience and interviewer agreed that it was not too bad. The music was beautiful and Michael agreed that some good has come of it. He got really close with Alfie Boe. By god the rehearsal period for Kismet must have been adventurous to say the least.
Talk came from Kismet to Patience to Woman in White and he told us about an accident he had with his co-starring rat Beatrice, which ended in her losing a bit of her tail, which he seems to regret until this very day.
He also discussed the old Sondheim versus Webber debate and naturally praised them both. Actually he said they had both written good and not so good stuff. You could not really compare them. They also have a completely different approach to their work and that they are both perfectionists, which he loves, because it’s important and because they are quick with praise as well as criticism. Also he found that Hal Prince has added to both their greatest works (Sweeny and Phantom). Mr. Lawson was quite impressed with Mr. Sondheim coming to see Sweeney four times already. They quickly talked about Sweeney almost being a flop when it first opened in London. And Michael said, the Drury Lane Theatre would have been too big for the show and the Adelphi was pushing it, but it just about works.
There were some really interesting questions from the audience (not the usual “What is your favourite song / musical / etc. ). First questions was: Why Pirelli was looking like the “Go-Compare” man (that is a TV commercial character in the UK, who really looks remarkably like Pirelli). And he said that the designer simply did not know anything about this TV spot, but when the costume was revealed they all went “Oh, the Go-Compare-Man”, but the looks matches the character.
Someone else wanted to know whether back in Manchester, when he had been Frederick in “Pirates of Pencanze” could he have imagined being a star 25 years later. “Oh Yes!” He did have a laugh. He said he earned 90 pounds a week, “How times have changed”, but on a more serious note, that job had taught him so much about working in a company, about the right work ethic, about the star system and about him wanting to work in Musical Theatre. Mr. Lawson had asked whether he had been offered speech roles and he said, yes he had, but he did not think it would give him the same joy as singing.
Another question was if he wanted to direct at one point. Another big yes. He feels he is at a place now where he can give direction and there are talks about doing something in Chichester at one point.
He was also asked about career longevity. He said it was important that you show professionalism and are able to take direction and work good in a company. Should you happen to lead the company it was important to lead by example and also know, when to have fun and when to be serious. He sees the problem that young actors think, getting the job, is the job and they forget what a massive commitment a musical is and he said there had been occasions, where he had to take youngsters to the side and explain to them that their work ethic (or lack thereof) might eventually lead to them never getting another job, because the industry is so small and if you failed to show up on time or show up at all, people will talk and producers will hear of it. So professionalism was his number one advice, if you want to take on a career in the business.
Talking about the various TV shows casting people he said he does not mind them as an auditioning tool and watches them all, but it is important that the winners are cared for, because there is a lot of pressure in it and that they need to be up for the job and be able to do eight shows a week. Also he then wants to see high quality shows and no cheap touring versions.
Another question was how they kept the tension up, when they were in a long run. He said that it was important to keep it up and that you could do it by always ever so slightly modifying your performance which then leads to the others on stage responding to that and so it keeps it fresh. It was great to hear him say that. He mentioned Imelda’s performance in “Wait” and we found that so intriguing, because this is just what we had witnessed the whole week. Subtle changes. Sometimes only a small movement of the head or holding each others’ gaze a second longer. They do change the entire feel of the scene. Really intriguing.
We should make clear that this is by no means a complete report, these are merely the things we jotted down or remembered at almost 2 o’clock in the morning, but at least we hope it gives you an impression of the event. The whole thing lasted an hour and it was such a joy to hear all the stories. We are positive that you could listen a whole day without being bored. We are so happy to have been part of this. What an absolute joy. We then had time to get back to the hotel and get changed for the night. We met our friends again at the stage door and you will find that there are only three photos online. Well this is due to the fact that when Michael came to the stage door, he said he was bursting for a …… and had to get inside quickly and in he was. (aka: he needed to go to the powder room).
The show itself was well what Sweeney always is: Stunning, fantastic,fabulous…. ‘insert praise here’, but what impressed us most was seeing it evolve from performance to performance. Today there was so much going on between these two that we could hardly wait for the next scene to see whether there’d be a new nuance and there always was. The audience loved it (among them John Barrowman and partner). A full standing ovation and a double curtain call once again. It’s unreal how fast the time flies, when you are in the Adelphi. One moment you are taking your seats and the next you are standing up for the curtain call. WE know for a fact that the wait to see it again on Michael’s birthday will be far too long and we cannot believe our May trip is almost over as we have to leave tomorrow afternoon. So one stage door to say goodbye and a few more hours in glorious London and then 7 weeks of withdraw.Permalink
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