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
WE got back to London on Tuesday and saw our first Sweeney after the opening night from the last row oft he Upper Circle (by choice!). since Chitty we have had the habit to see a show from different perspectives as you tend to find new bits and pieces here and there, depending on where you’re sitting. The view was very good actually and the sound up there is immaculate. We were quite impressed. There was a large group of school children, well teenagers, but young teenagers, sitting in front of us and they were incredibly well behaved and really into the show. We do hope however that the teachers will discuss the very challenging scenes at a later date (after all there’s murder, rape and child abuse to cover). We admit to having wondered whether they should have put up a firm age limit, but then again the youngsters today are made from much sterner stuff than we were, when we were as young.
Even up there we noticed slight modifications in the routines. It is all settled nicely now and everyone seems ready to experiment with their character a bit. It’s great to see Mrs Lovett getting more and more tactile with the emotionally remote Mr. Todd and we are just so jealous. This lucky woman, well, not in the end obviously…. The crowd was very enthusiastic and even warranted a second round of bows from everyone.
Today, well yesterday now, well on Wednesday we experienced the polar opposite and were lucky enough to sit in the stalls. Completely different experience of course for the matinee at least, because for the evening show we were back in the Upper Circle (not by choice this time, but we really can recommend the first three rows of the Upper Circle, the view is excellent, you can still see the faces, just the leg room is a bit limited).
The show is still as wonderful as it was back in March. It got even better now and we did not think that possible. Epiphany tonight was out of this world. Terrifying and mesmerizing. How he managed this twice in one day is beyond us. We just felt in complete awe to witness such talent and we know we are very privileged to be able to see the show as often as we do.
What was funny about tonight’s performance, we were up in the goods, as we said, and this time surrounded by a class of much older school children (probably 16 – 17) from Austria. We were quite curious to see how they reacted to the show. And you could tell they were quite unsettled in the Judge’s self-flagellation scene. It’s always intriguing to witness in every audience so far that watching this always gets a more emotional reaction that watching gruesome killings. So the feeling of shame seems to override the shock of murder. Quite intriguing really, but anyways….
During the interval we heard the kids speaking and nearly all of them complained that they could not understand a word of the dialogues and that there was too little blood. So they thought it was boring. We almost wanted to search for the teacher and ask them how they could choose this musical without going through the lyrics and vocabulary first. Such a waste and shame. Sondheim is very wordy and loosing out on these brilliant lyrics is just a tragedy. Luckily they did not fidget and actually did applaud loudly in the end. So we hope the music won them over after a while.
Sorry to bore you with audience observations, but really, what can be said about the show that has not been said before? Imelda and Michael are just outstanding. And everyone else as well. It gets repetitive. No obvious glitches, just the bodies sliding down ever so slowly now and then, but they all vanished eventually.
The arrival stage door today was lovely. A small crowd, no rain, a very handsome Ball (see photos for proof). Between the shows we wandered around Piccadilly and Leicester Square and happened to be at the right spot, because, just when we crossed the street at Leicester Square none other than Mr. Johnny Depp was chauffeured past us and to the Empire Cinema, where he opened his new movie Dark Shadows. We have been around Leicester Square for several opening nights, but we never heard hysteria like that! As we saw him on the big screen outside the cinema we contemplated grabbing him and drag him with us to the Adelphi to have him watch Sweeney Todd done properly (just kidding).
And the celebrity spotting continued at the stage door. When Michael came out after the show he was with Alex Kingston. Quite a glamorous da, for an ordinary Wednesday.Permalink
So that’s it, the last two Sweeney Todd shows in Chichester. Thank heavens, the official announcement about it’s transfer to the West End came a day beforehand. Otherwise we would have been stranded with something we have not experienced for 5 years: Not knowing what he is going to do next. We have realized how spoilt we have been the last couple of years, as there was a time we would receive messages like: Michael is going to do a concert in three weeks time….
We got to the stage door in good time, just to be sure we would not miss him while we were circling to get a parking space, you know the story. This must have been one of the oddest and certainly shortest arrival stage doors for a last show ever!
Michael arrived, there were more than 50 people waiting for him. He parked his car as usual, he got out quickly and moved in front of his car and no one went to him to get a photo, a signature, nothing. We all stood there, around him, forming a huge circle. Helge handed him his and Petra’s present, after all it’s the last time we are going to see him before Christmas. Once Michael moved many of the people standing around moved back to give him space instead of the usual rush to him. He kept repeating, he’d be going in now and that is, what he basically did. Yes, he was finally asked to sign some stuff and pose for photos, but basically he was in very quickly as we all just stood there and stared in awe instead of speaking LOL. Stage doors sometimes are odd experiences.
The matinee performance was fabulous. Of course they have not really changed anything about the performances. Everything seemed to be more intense and the moment Sweeney killed his wife unknowingly was almost as horrible as the first time we had seen it.
The evening performance saw our first technical glitch for a very long time. At the end of the contest Pirelli walks over to Sweeney to hand him the 5 Pounds and he tripped over the trapdoor, that is used very so often during the show to put props and actors on and off stage. It’s centre stage and is usually shut and invisible unless used during scene changes. But this time you could see how one panel of it gave way under Pirelli and was half open afterwards. It refused to shut again. So once the scene finished all the actors left and a technician walked on stage informing us that there will be a short break. 5 people then worked feverishly on the malfuntioning trapdoor. I bet they wished the theatre had a curtain but no such luck. It must be VERY stressful to work with 1200 people watching your every move fretting that they’d have to cancel the final performance! But they did manage to get it to shut properly again and the performance continued as if nothing ever happened - well apart from the actors walking on stage from the sides instead of being lifted on and off and the props being carried by stage hands dressed in black. We wondered about the finale of the first act where Mr T and Mrs L disappear through said trapdoor (usually to tumultous applause). Would they walk off stage? Or disappaer into the back of stage? But just in time for this exit the trapdoor worked perfectly again and they had their usual disappearing act exit (indeed to tumultous applause). Naturally the break was used for some further mending of the faulty equipment and the second half went smoothly. Hats off to the actors who all adapted so well to the spontaneous change in routines. The joys of live theatre…what can you do?
While the audience in the matinee was a bit weird (there was MASSIVE applause when Sweeney finally gets to kill the Judge…Panto feeling) the evening crowd was quiet in the appropriate places and roared with laughter at the right moments, embracing this fabulous cast and Sondheim’s masterpiece just as it should be. in the end we all started the standing ovation for the ensemble (most of the times we have been it began with Michael and Imelda entering the stage again) and stood through the whole “curtain call". We screamed ourselves hoarse it has to be said. and it was so touching to see them all having tears in their eyes and Michael and Imelda in a big hug…a magical moment. And so well deserved.
And now it’s all over and we are back at our cosy bed and breakfast packing. Oh and guess what? We are only four guests here and we met the other two guests at the theatre! They also came to see the final performance! It’s a small world.
Now we will battle with fighting off our post-show blues (focus on March, focus on March!) and had back to Germany to give in to pre-Christmas madness and Sweeney ticket booking frenzy…
After chancing a first glance at the Adelphi on our way back to the airport. Afterall this will be “home” next year. And no doubt we will be back reporting from our London adventures then.Permalink
Another fabulous night at the Barber’s yesterday. No Stephen Sondheim sadly, but he will be in next week we were told.
Stage door was good fun and we got our photo with Mr Todd. Mmmh all mean and glowering.
Unfortunately the pics came with a price. When Kerstin handed the camera to Julia the first bunny let it drop and while it’s still working it’s literally broken at the battery compartment. Great, not. Fingers crossed it can be repaired.
Totally overwhelmed again. Our final front row (for this run). There is no being too close for this show. The stage is very low and it is appropriately terrifying to be so close to those razor blades. This time it felt even more intense (lots of heavy breathing down Imelda’s microphone after Epiphany – chills down our spines!). No laughter at the death scene but instead (hooray!) a very impressed audience yet again.
We cannot believe the week has gone so fast. Only two more shows and then it’s packing time. At least it is a nice day. Sun is out (it’s cold though). And naturally we do keep our fingers crossed for Wales this morning.
Just like every day of the week we woke up with Sweeney tunes in our heads. At least it’s Worst Pies in London now and not the very life-affirming line “We all deserve to die! Even you Mrs Lovett, even I!”. While this number (it’s from Epiphany) is the absolute highlight of the show, it really does not help to cheer you up in the mornings.
Wouldn’t it be dreamy to get a DVD recording of this production (and an original Chichester cast recording while we’re at it)? We know this is not what happens with musicals these days and how theatre is all about being transient, but it would definitely deserve to be captured for posterity.Permalink
Yesterday’s stage door was a short but sweet affair. We managed to ask him whether he’d be part of the post-performance discussion that was planned for this night. No, he said. Well, shame, as we thought it would have been interesting but you didn’t want to miss out on waving him good night, right? Okay, we are sure this is something only fellow fans will be able to understand. Ah well, we had a lovely post-stage door chat at the theatre bar next door and were soon back with Mr T and Mrs L.
If anything the show gets better with each viewing. There is always something new to discover and words simply cannot describe the sheer brilliance of Michael’s performance. Leaves us breathless and shaken every single time.
A special mention must go to the stunning visuals of the show. The lighting is superb and it really feels like watching an epic movie up for the Oscar for best photography. Some of the pictures they created (him backlit, a towering silhouette above the audience) will stay with us forever. No doubt about that.
Scene applause again for Epiphany. We are torn on that one, as there is really no question as to whether he deserves this (a revelation indeed), but it is interrupting a very tense moment. At least no laughter at Sweeney’s death this time.
So what to do now. Throughout the entire interval there had been loads of discussions whether we would all stay for the post-show talk or leave for the stage door. What if he did appear after all? Why wouldn’t they let us wave him good bye and then back in again? What to do, what to do? Our little group gathered in the auditorium for a quick pow wow after the final bravos of the evening. Word had it that he was doing it after all, so we gladly rushed back to our seats…to find them blocked by people who had moved forward a few rows. We all apologized and said that we had merely been talking to our friends down the aisle and most of the people moved back to their own seats or took one of the other vacant ones but not so much luck for Bunny Kerstin. The lady on her place refused to move. We had left our seats full stop. Heated discussion ensued and even an usher had trouble persuading the lady to take up one of the other seats. Not a lot of love around us after this intermezzo. Her friends were quite put out we fear, but come one, we had merely wanted to sit down again after having been away for 1 minute. And we were also sitting with friends.
Anyways, the cast appeared on stage to big applause (really many of them were so kind to spend a little while longer with us). When Michael came on stage the substantial crowd erupted into massive cheers. He did look rather delicious in purple shirt and jeans (no socks…mmmh). We were allowed to ask questions then. Many good questions from the audience. Imelda had brought her cute little dog (“This is Molly with her carer,” introduced Mr Ball LOL). Were they inspired by the movie, er no, not really did it look like it? The idea to set it in more modern times was to make it more relatable for a modern audience and also to shake off all the ghosts of past productions or indeed the movie. They had an incredibly short rehearsal period of 5 weeks to get to this perfection (Michael and Imelda had rehearsed an extra week together before this). Many young actors in the audience who wanted advise on auditions and getting into character. Really insightful replies by Imelda an all the others. Did they know they had a hit when still in rehearsals. You could tell they all thought yes, they did really, but didn’t want to sound too self-absorbed so went for they knew it when they had the audience in for the first time.
A daring question on the temperamental chute (some victims were rather hesitant to slide down into the bakehouse). They explained how the blood is based on sugar and is a very sticky affair. So at one point, when one poor victim was indeed stuck in the middle (we had seen this show) Michael told us all how eventually a hand came up from below and pulled the actor down and out of sight. And he had to remain singing throughout the entire drama! LOL mind you, as we said, we had been present at the incident and you couldn’t see the tiniest hint of a flicker of irritation on his face or hear it in his voice. That’s a true professional for you.
Another question surrounded the blood flow during the killings. As sometimes you hardly see a drop and at other times it’s splashing around like a broken water pipe. The guy who plays Sweeney’s first nameless victim explained the situation. When they started rehearsing with the blood they all had belts that made them look like suicide bombers, including blood packs and battery packs and so on. They needed to push a button and the blood was supposed squirt. At the beginning it merely trickled and then exploded into Michael’s face. Now they do this mechanically in a way. Actually he did not completely reply to this question.
There was lots of praise on stage and off stage for the actors, the musical direction, the sound design and the set. Michael explained how important the sound design was for the show as they did not use the existing system of the Festival Theatre, but had something individually designed installed. It’s rather complicated but there seem to be many small speakers that are individually controlled.
Then he continued to talk about the emotional impact of the opening scene, when he is still hidden from view and hears the almost operatic intro from the ensemble. He said the soundwaves hit you and what an amazing moment it is, when the entire cast calls out to him (“Sweeney, Sweeney…!”). So, if we ever get the chance…. This earned him a big laugh. As if they’d ever give us the chance to sit on that chair in turn…. We wish!
It was over all too soon, but they had all been very generous with their spare time.
At the stage door afterwards there was this huge crowd of acting school students and we thought he’d never get out of there, but just like in Rugby, where there is a huge huddle of players and the ball sometimes escapes unnoticed, he appeared in front of us after just a few moments and waved good night. How he did it, we will never know! The cast then went into the bar of the opposite Minerva theatre. So this was our clue to go. It’s really not the done thing to wait for him after he said good-bye. Did not stop some though.
The sun is shining in Chichester today and we cannot believe it’s Friday already. We’ll get back to you soon.Permalink
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