As I’ve said before, I don’t care too much for musicals and big song-and-dance numbers. All those flailing limbs, all those enthusiastic teeth, all that super-sized cheerfulness. It’s unnatural. “Stop,” I want to urge them. “I fear for you and your unbounded Laura Ingalls optimism. Life is not a cabaret. Look at what happened to Mary. Life blinded her even though she sang a lusty ‘Rock of Ages’ in every episode. Nothing tragic ever happened to Nellie Olson and she was a bitch WHO COULDN’T SING. Come with me and we can hold hands and talk about death while listening to a ticking clock.”
But what would be the point? Not everyone is capable of hearing the valuable life lessons offered by Little House on the Prairie. Not everyone can process the information that Elaine Paige has based a lucrative singing career around an artful feather-cut. No, the majority are still pupating, held in the suspended animation of first-stage musical appreciation, passively gaining nutrients from a Rodgers and Hammerstein sugar water via cultural osmosis. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s ‘Once More, with Feeling’ episode — the definitive advanced course on how to sing without a crinoline and Doris Day — is as crazy an idea to them as a round world.
With all this in mind, I have to wonder why I decided to review Here Come the Girls and Gary, a community theatre show the musical equivalent of an all-you-can-eat deal that promised an EpiPen thigh-stab as surely as the throat-closing horror of Mamma Mia.
There were four reasons. Walk with me:
- Director, Wendy “Safe As” Payn. Any show directed by Wendy is unlikely to fall apart and even if things threaten to go tits up Wendy will hold it together by the power of a hard stare exerting some form of mind control over her performers, like a really small Vincent Price in a dress.
- Talented friends. It helps knowing that your buttocks won’t require clenching all night, that there will be something of identifiable quality floating in what is essentially a large pan of leftovers soup. Think of your friends as the bacon, or maybe the croutons if you’re vegetarian. Or Jewish. Whatever, you get my point.
- The use of the term ‘rehearsal répétiteur’ in the show’s programme. Anything said in French when a perfectly good English word will do lends an air of aspiration to any endeavour. Someone is making an effort to impress, someone comfortable with the idea of linen suits and no socks.
- Matthew Rooke, musical director. A man with recognised qualifications in hitting, scraping and blowing things to make nice sounds come out. A man not unfamiliar, I suspect, with rehearsal répétiteurs.
I’m pleased to report that this four-point decision-making aid to reviewing probability — let’s call it The Flyte Dec Process© — paid dividends.
You see, Wendy, true to form, kept a tight hold of the reins. With a programme of 39 songs to plough through, she couldn’t afford a singer going rogue and busting out some Kanye. Busy, busy, busy, girls, keep it moving! Because yes, as the show title suggests, the night was all about the girls.
‘Cell Block Tango’, ‘Fabulous Baby’, ‘Secret Love’, ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, ‘Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves’; there were Bond themes, love songs, classic laments from the Sixties about unreliable men and boots manufactured for the specific purpose of trampling over errant boyfriends. The impressive vocal talents of Tamsin Davidson, Anna Emmins, Alison Fergie, Katie Hindmarsh, Angela McKeown, Diane Renner, Nicola Salonsky, Lisa Summers and Marie Tucker had the responsibility of delivering this feel-good mother-load.
With a stage awash with oestrogen — the hormone responsible for stimulating the air-grab — Wendy injected the show with a balancing dose of testosterone in the shape of Gary Robson, Mark Vevers, Ross Graham, Oliver Payn, David Simpson and Paddy-Jo Flannigan. Let’s not beat about the bush here — they weren’t drafted in for their singing. They were scrambled for their blokeish pratting about, an essential ingredient if the audience was to avoid cycle synchronization and the urge to quilt.
But while most of the lads were happy quietly subverting the girls’ performance and delivering their own lusty versions of songs such as ‘YMCA’, ‘In the Navy’ and ‘Under the Sea’, for one it wasn’t enough. One wanted to be one of the girls.
Now, if you’ve ever seen a six foot two man in gold platform shoes with nipples like QE2 starter buttons wearing a mini-dress tight enough to divine messages in the wrinkles of his scrotum… well, you’re probably still trying to scrub your brain clean. Bravo,Gary Robson, who brought the house down with his contribution to ‘The Promise’, ‘Spice Up Your Life’ and ‘Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves’.
While the boys leavened things with their comedy baps, there is no doubt that the girls were doing all the vocal heavy lifting and, believe me, there is no tune with greater heft than a show tune. So, yes, sometimes a song was tackled too politely, a timid deference acting as a barrier to conveying the emotion of the song. Hey, I get that. I balk at the key change in ‘Memory’ and I’m on my own in the shower.
But I tell you what, Marie Tucker had no such problem. Wow. ‘Licence to Kill’ and ‘Alone’ were given full emotional vent. An absolutely spine-tingling performance from a girl with serious singing chops. Can’t wait to see what she does next.
Further stand-out numbers came from Tamsin Davidson, Kirsty Jamieson and Anna Emmins, who all have that enviable knack of being able to inhabit a song. Wendy gave ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and the ‘Trolley Song’ to classically trained Tamsin, safe in the knowledge that she would do more than justice to Dame Shirley and Judy Garland.
Kirsty’s no-prisoners attitude as she sang ‘Fabulous Baby’ and ‘River Deep Mountain High’ had the audience cheering. She stopped just shy of screaming, “I can’t hear you, Wember-leeeee!” and swan-diving off the stage.
The languid tones of Anna Emmins suited numbers such as ‘Fever’ and ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’. Anna is used to performing as Electric Penelope, so I expected her performance to be assured and stylish and told my sphincter to take five.
(Talking of stylish: great attention to detail — a gazquillion costume changes all co-ordinating and with matching shoes! A careful tick in my little book of OCD.)
So, you’re thinking, Here Come the Girls… had the detail, the content, the talent and the costumes to run and run and run, eh? Well, no. One night only (that’s for all you Dreamgirls fans out there). It seems that this mammoth production had been conceived simply to fill in a scheduling hole and to… to feel the love. See what I mean about music folk?
Oh, afterwards I learnt that Matthew Rooke and fellow band members Mike Hardy, Alison Coates and Graham Borthwick were so under-rehearsed that they were practically making it up.
“Hey, Mike. Remind me, Skyfall?”
“Tum-tum, tum-tum, tum-tum-tum —”
“I thought that was ‘Walk on By.'”
(Pause) “Oh, shit. Keep playing, KEEP PLAYING.”
A sell-out musical extravagance that had people up on their feet singing and cheering without realising that they were actually rocking out to a glorified jam session in a garage. Kudos.
But it all came good in the end so why make a bloody song and dance about it?